When Michael and Marion McLetchie look out from their rural Innisfail home now they see hundreds of acres of prime and picturesque farmland.
But not for long, the couple says.
Saskatoon-based Federated Co-operatives Ltd. has been granted permission to build a fuel depot that will see 20 tanks, each 10 metres high, sprout on a farm field a few hundred metres west of the McLetchies, just north of Innisfail.
That prospect is bad enough, but Marion has little doubt it won’t be the end of the industrialization of the site.
“It’s going to mushroom into a huge gigantic thing eventually,” she said in a recent interview.
The McLetchies and other residents believe the county should have done an area structure plan for the whole area before approving industrial developments piecemeal.
Similar arguments were raised a few years ago when a giant biofuels plant was proposed for land not far away on the west side of Hwy 2A. Their concerns also went unanswered then too, they say.
The biofuels project eventually fell victim to the recession and didn’t go ahead.
Steve Turner, who lives even closer to the proposed bulk fuel depot, had planned to retire on his land.
“I was told they’ll never build anything across from me, that it’s straight agriculture,” he said.
Turner said his and neighbours’ property values will take a hit when the storage facility is built. Who is going to compensate them? he asks.
Nearby residents also have no idea what else is planned for the 120-acre site and how big the Federated Co-op complex might get. Dust, traffic and what would happen if there is a fire are other concerns at a facility storing up to 2.9 million litres of farm fuel.
Turner said there is no need to build the facility so far from Innisfail, where industrial-zoned land is located adjacent. Federated could even move the tank farm elsewhere on the site, which would put it farther from local residents.
“I don’t understand why they have to put it so close to a residential area,” agreed Len Hopkins, who lives with his wife near the site. “It strikes me as a little bit of a lack of foresight in Red Deer County planning.”
Richard Wagers was born and raised in the area and feels the county is dropping its responsibility to preserve agricultural land.
“That’s my concern, that we’re moving into not just industrial, but a town setting.
“They should be looking after the county as a rural area. It’s just an assault on the land.”
Why, residents ask, approve an industrial land use so far from Innisfail. Build out from the town, not the other way around, they argue.
Coun. Philip Massier, was among five council members who voted in favour of Federated’s rezoning from agricultural to medium industrial and area structure plan changes.
Massier said the area was already deemed future industrial land in the intermunicipal development plan.
“So we felt it was going to be an industrial site into the future, here was the first one in and away we go,” said Massier. There are also benefits to the agricultural community to having a fuel depot there.
Massier said he understands why residents would prefer to see development start at the town and move outward.
“In a perfect world, I guess that’s how it might occur too, but that’s not how they chose to develop.
“It’s hard for us to tell people where to develop. It’s their land, they kind of choose what pieces get developed first.
Massier said the county intends to create a full plan for the area and it is moving up the priority list.
Mike Thompson, petroleum development co-ordinator for Federated, told council during the public hearing about three to eight delivery trucks will visit the site per week.
An emergency management plan will be created and the site will meet or exceed all regulations. The company has offered similar sites for 30 years without incidents, he said.
Thompson could not be reached for further comment.
Residents are hoping to appeal to county councillors to change their mind on the project, which was approved on May 7. Federated Co-op’s project meets county plans including its Municipal Development Plan and an Intermunicipal Development Plan with Innisfail, which designates the area for future industrial use.
The county’s planning department determined the tank farm is suitable and “will not negatively impact adjacent land uses.”
Since the project was approved by council as a direct control district, it cannot be appealed to the subdivision and development appeal board.
“We’re looking at the possibility of whether we can legally challenge what they’ve done,” said McLetchie.