Ponoka County farm advocates lose court battle

Ponoka Right to Farm Society wanted new Ponoka County plan tossed

A farming advocacy group has lost its bid to reverse Ponoka County regulations banning new confined feeding operations from a large swath of rural land.

The Ponoka Right to Farm Society argued that the county had overstepped its bounds when it passed a plan that prohibits new confined feeding operations, such as pig farms and feedlots, in a 20,000-acre exclusion zone northwest of the town of Ponoka.

Since there are already so many residential developments and confined feeding operations in the exclusion zone, new multi-lot residential subdivisions are also banned, “except possibly small clusters of view lots overlooking the Battle River,” says the county’s North West Area Structure Plan.

“Most of the municipality is open to new (confined feed lots), so limiting growth in this area will not seriously harm the growth of the industry,” the plan says.

Right to Farm Society spokesman John Hulsman said members of the 300-strong group are disappointed, but respect the decision of the court and do not plan to appeal.

“Our goal from here forward is to lobby and protect the agricultural industry and the right to farm,” said Hulsman.

The society contends that the exclusion zone is unnecessary and there is room for both residences and farming operations in the area that features prime growing soil.

“It’s not at all, in our opinion, becoming a density issue,” he said.

There are also concerns that what starts out as a 20,000-acre exclusion zone could be expanded if enough people lobby the county.

“This is one specific area. We have every reason to believe that in the future, that people could lobby to expand this exclusion zone to other areas of the county.”

Hulsman said the Natural Resources Conservation Board, which approves confined feeding operations, already takes into account densities, proximity to neighbours, manure spreading and other factors when making its decisions.

“They take the emotion out of it,” he said.

Hulsman said the issues at stake are present throughout rural Alberta.

“Those that continue to want to stay viable are having a harder and harder time to do that in rural Alberta,” he said.

While they did not win this challenge, the fight was worth it, society members believe.

“If you just do nothing, then you’ll be run over.”

Under county rules, existing confined feed lots can continue operating and expand. A number of large operations not yet recognized as confined feed lots by the Natural Resources Conservation Board can continue or resume operations if they have stopped temporarily.

Smaller intensive animal operations, not big enough to be called confined feed lots under provincial legislation, will be allowed to grow big enough to be considered such facilities.

All operations must meet the regulations of Alberta’s Agriculture Operation Practices Act, which includes minimum setbacks from residences, named lakes and communities, as well as rules around manure management and just about every other aspect of farming.



pcowley@reddeeradvocate.com

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The issue surrounding future land use and development continues to plague Ponoka County council as it looks to figure out how to approach the Town of Ponoka and the Ponoka Right To Farm Society. File photo

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