Alberta MLA wants more public comment on feedlot plan near Pigeon Lake

Click to play video: 'Residents raise stink over proposed industrial feedlot near popular Alberta lake' Residents raise stink over proposed industrial feedlot near popular Alberta lake
People who live near Pigeon Lake in central Alberta are concerned about a cattle operation expansion they say is being rushed through the approval process. Dan Grummett reports residents want more time to fight the plan, which they say has the potential to devastate local water ways. – Apr 10, 2022

The Alberta government must seek more public comment on a plan to build a cattle feedlot near a popular recreational lake or risk damaging public trust in how the industry is monitored, says an Opposition politician.

New Democrat environment critic Marlin Schmidt says a proposal for a 4,000-head feedlot near Pigeon Lake, about 100 kilometres southwest of Edmonton, received neither enough notice nor enough time for the thousands of people in the area to understand its potential consequences and express concerns.

“They weren’t provided adequate notification or a realistic timeline to even learn about the potential impact of the project,” Schmidt said.

About 5,200 people have permanent or seasonal homes along the shores of Pigeon Lake and it sees about 100,000 visitors annually drawn to its woods, beaches, boating and fishing.

The popular summer beach destination for Albertans has been the subject of many blue-green algae public health warnings over the last decade. The lake has also dealt with fecal bacteria.

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The slow turnover of its water makes it uniquely vulnerable to the algae blooms. Many of the thousands of residents around the lake fear run-off from the operation will worsen the issue, which they have already spent millions of dollars to fight.

Read more: ‘We know what to do’: Scientist publishes study on blue-green algae; urges Alberta government to act

In March, some area residents in the County of Wetaskiwin were notified of an application by livestock producer G & S Cattle Ltd.

G&S has applied to the Natural Resources Conservation Board to build the feedlot about four kilometres west of the lake.

The NRCB is a regulatory body that operates at arm’s length from the provincial government and reports to the Ministry of Environment.

The new animals would produce an estimated 36 tonnes of manure a day, which would be spread on about six per cent of the lake’s entire watershed.

Creeks draining the pastures where manure would be spread empty into the lake near popular beaches, a provincial park and a conservation area.

The project would be located adjacent to an existing commercial feedlot of 1,500 cattle operated by the same applicant.

A map outlines the boundaries of a proposed CFO in Wetaskiwin County. It was contained in a 19-page statement of complaint submitted to the Natural Resources Conservation Board, which will decide whether to approve the project. Pigeon Lake Watershed Association

Although “courtesy letters” were sent to immediate neighbours, the only public notice given for the proposal was a March 10 announcement in the Pipestone Flyer, a small rural weekly based in Wetaskiwin. The public comment period closed April 7.

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“The timelines are so short,” said Schmidt. “For lots of people, a significant amount of time had elapsed between when the notification was posted and they became aware of the proposal.

“That didn’t give them enough time to even get the information from the proponent.”

Schmidt also said the board isn’t required to consult widely. Only concerns from those judged “directly affected” are considered — a determination made by the board. Owning recreational property at the lake or just camping and fishing there isn’t enough.

According to provincial legislation, the NRCB is only required to notify residents who live within 1.5 kilometres of the proposed project boundaries.

Read more: Residents raise stink over proposed industrial feedlot near popular Alberta lake

“The regulators narrow down the field considerably,” Schmidt said. “So many people are excluded.”

Schmidt said the system is damaging public confidence. “We need to have a meaningful way to include people in the regulatory process.”

Similar concerns have been expressed about other Alberta regulators. A survey conducted for a provincial advisory panel found 85 per cent of Albertans felt the province’s energy industry was inadequately governed.

Schmidt said his office has received dozens of calls from concerned citizens on the proposed feedlot.

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“It’s very rare for me to get dozens of emails on a particular project,” he said.

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Costly cabins: Alberta lake properties caught up in real estate tidal wave – Apr 1, 2022

Schmidt has written two letters to United Conservative Party Environment Minister Jason Nixon asking him to reopen the public comment period for the feedlot project.

“Citizens want the submission deadline extended beyond April 7 and they want the determination of who is an ‘affected party’ to be broadened,” he wrote on April 5.

Schmidt said he has not received a response.

G&S head Greg Thalen has declined interview requests.

Read more: What are the swarms of black bugs taking over Alberta’s Pigeon Lake?

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Despite the tight timelines, more than 300 people have filed statements of concern with the board, as has the Pigeon Lake Watershed Association.

The County of Wetaskiwin has asked for an environmental impact assessment of the project — not something the board normally conducts.

The board tries to render a decision on an application within 65 days, said spokeswoman Janet Harvey. However, this application is likely to take longer.

“It is anticipated that due to the large number of responses received for this application that it will likely take longer to process,” she wrote in an email.

— With files from Dan Grummett, Global News

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