Community members and land owners at a popular lake southwest of Edmonton gathered Saturday evening to voice their concerns about a feedlot proposed in their community.
A feedlot owner near Pigeon Lake has applied to expand his operation by 4,000 head of cattle.
Some who live and visit the area are worried the proposed feedlot threatens the water quality of the lake, among other environmental concerns.
Pigeon Lake is fed by run-off, not streams or rivers, and is drained by a single creek. That makes the lake highly vulnerable to algal blooms fed by nutrients washing into its waters.
The lake’s roughly 5,000 inhabitants have spent millions upgrading wastewater systems to improve the lake’s water quality. They fear the feedlot proposed by G&S Cattle Ltd. would undo that work.
The feedlot would be within a few kilometres of the shore on land that slopes down into it.
It was standing room only at Saturday’s meeting in Westerose, Alta., near Pigeon Lake.
Martin Klatt and his family are fifth-generation farmers with about 80 acres of land on the west shore of Pigeon Lake. Their land is located directly off the feedlot land.
He said he has kept much of his land pristine, and also has a quarter of land to the south where he currently farms grain and has previously farmed cattle. He admits he’s not against cattle operations but is concerned about the location of the proposed feedlot.
“It just changes the whole lifestyle out there. We lived there and moved there — well, my wife was there all the time — but it was peaceful and clean. It was just the way we wanted to live and that’s going to change,” Klatt said.
“I think it’s going to be almost unbearable.”
Beyond concerns about possible impacts to the lake water, Klatt said he is also worried the land will not sustain the number of cattle proposed at the nearby feedlot. He also worries waste from the feedlot will saturate the soil in the area.
“It doesn’t make me feel good at all. I have grandchildren that play down at that creek. They can’t in the spring with the runoff. There’s concerns about chemicals in a feedlot,” he said.
Klatt said he planned to eventually subdivide the land for his grandchildren to live there too, but worries that may not be an option.
“I don’t know if that’s going to be possible. There are restrictions as to how far away from a feedlot you have to be to subdivide. And I haven’t got clarity yet on that. We may be in the radius where we won’t be able to subdivide and so that shoots that in the foot,” he said.
“My wife and I were retired just recently and that was our plan to live there just quiet and peaceful. There’s going to be an enormous amount of traffic coming in and out of there… and the dust and the noise and it’s just going to disrupt our lifestyle entirely.
“It’s not just us. It’s going to affect everyone in that community.
“We’d like to see politicians and individuals that live around the lake have a say and have it changed before it’s too late. Once it’s there, I don’t think we’ll be able to pull it out.”
Pigeon Lake is already “supercharged” with nutrients from decades of residential growth as well as the region’s natural geology, said Jay White, a consulting biologist who’s studied the lake for years. Those nutrients don’t go away, he said.
“Once it gets in your lake there’s no place for it to go.”
While White said there are ways to keep manure from contaminating lake water, he doesn’t see enough of them in the proposal now before the Natural Resources Conservation Board.
Greg Thalen, owner of G&S Cattle, has declined interview requests on his plans.
“The proposed confined feeding operation is an industrial scale agricultural operation that will produce nutrients — phosphorous primarily — that will change the lake, creating more problems with harmful algal blooms and impacting all of the users that come to Pigeon Lake and live around the shores of Pigeon Lake,” said Robert Gibbs, director of Pigeon Lake Watershed Association, who attended Saturday’s meeting.
“We think that the only realistic option is for them to find a better place in Alberta to run that kind of business.”
Jeannette Hall, a representative of families impacted by the Pigeon Lake feedlot, was very impressed by Saturday’s turnout.
“Tonight wasn’t about taking a side, tonight was just about getting information and helping people understand the process,” she said. “It’s very complex and it is very hard for the public to understand.
“To see a packed house and standing room, that was an incredible turnout. I was very impressed.”
Hall said if the proposal is approved, community members will have 10 days to file an appeal.
“That is an incredible amount of pressure,” she said. “There’s also a lot of costs and burdens that go into that.”
— with files from The Canadian Press.