Land sale smacks of patronage: critics

BOW ISLAND — Ranchers, conservationists and politicians are speaking out against a plan by the Alberta government to quietly sell off environmentally sensitive land to a political supporter for a huge potato farm.

BOW ISLAND — Ranchers, conservationists and politicians are speaking out against a plan by the Alberta government to quietly sell off environmentally sensitive land to a political supporter for a huge potato farm.

The sale of the 65-square kilometres of Crown land southwest of Medicine Hat to Louis Ypma of SLM Spud Farms of Taber is expected to be approved by the Progressive Conservative cabinet this month.

The Alberta Wilderness Association says it is against the sale because the patch of native prairie grassland is home to endangered species, including burrowing owls and ferruginous hawks. Plowing up such land for potato chips doesn’t make sense, association spokesman Nigel Douglas said.

“If you have the right connections, then they will sell you our land and even turn a blind eye to all of the endangered species habitat that will be destroyed,” Douglas said Thursday.

The president of the Alberta Fish and Game Association has written a letter to Premier Ed Stelmach opposing the sale.

In his letter, Quentin Bochar calls the area an island of nature that is enjoyed by people who hunt, fish, berry-pick and view wildlife. Bochar points out that there is less than five per cent of native prairie grasslands left in Alberta.

“This further destruction will help to seal the fate of these species as well as any outdoors enjoyment by future generations,” he wrote.

“We have continually urged the Alberta Government to stop selling public lands but all it seems to have done is drive you underground and make these decisions behind closed doors where the public cannot let their feelings be known.”

Ranchers in the area say they oppose the move because they use the land to graze cattle.

Sustainable Resource Development Mel Knight and members of his staff could not be reached Thursday. Ypma declined comment.

Elections Alberta says SLM Spud Farms contributed $2,000 to the Progressive Conservative Alberta election campaign in 2008 and donated money to the Cardston-Taber-Warner Progressive Conservative riding association last year and in 2007.

In 2005 Ypma was named one of the top 10 potato growers in Alberta by McCain Foods.

Earlier in the week Knight told the Lethbridge Herald that the provincial government is legally allowed to sell Crown land to anyone without holding a public hearing or offering it publicly to the highest bidder.

Paul Hinman of the opposition Wildrose Alliance calls the Crown land sale a form of patronage.

“To find out that the government is selling this off to a politically connected group is just wrong,” Hinman said.

“It is appalling that government would think that this is the way to operate.”

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