Alberta’s environment minister said the public had commented on a plan to build a cattle feedlot near a popular recreational lake southwest of Edmonton.
Opposition Environment Critic Marlin Schmidt had written two letters to Environment Minister Jason Nixon asking him to reopen the public comment period for the feedlot project.
Schmidt said a proposed 4,000-head feedlot near Pigeon Lake, about 100 kilometers southwest of Edmonton, received neither enough notice nor enough time for the thousands of people in the region understand its potential consequences and voice their concerns.
In a written response to Schmidt, Nixon said the public notice was published in the Pipestone Flyer, a small rural weekly, because it is the newspaper with the best coverage of the area.
Nixon said the Natural Resources Conservation Council also posted the advisory on its website.
The Farm Practices Act outlines public notice requirements for such requests, which include the length of the notice period and who is notified based on the size of the feedlot, Nixon said. .
A fragile watershed
G&S Cattle Ltd. asked the Natural Resources Conservation Board to build the feedlot about four kilometers west of the lake. The new animals would produce about 36 tons of manure per day, which would be spread over about 6% of the entire lake catchment.
Around 5,200 people have permanent or seasonal homes along the shores of Pigeon Lake and it sees around 100,000 visitors each year drawn to its woods, beaches, boating and fishing. The slow renewal of its water makes it particularly vulnerable to algal blooms, which residents have spent millions of dollars fighting.
Streams draining pastures where manure would be spread into the lake near popular beaches, provincial park and conservation area.
Although “courtesy letters” were sent to immediate neighbours, the only public notice given for the proposal was the March 10 advertisement in the Pipestone Flyer, a small Wetaskiwin-based rural weekly. The public comment period ended on April 7.
“Timelines are so short,” Schmidt said. “For many people, a considerable time elapsed between when the notification was published and when they learned about the proposal. This did not even give them enough time to get the information from the promoter. “
Schmidt also said the board is not required to consult widely.
Only the concerns of those deemed “directly affected” are taken into account – a decision taken by the council. Owning recreational property by the lake or simply camping and fishing there is not enough.
Schmidt said the system undermines public trust.
Similar concerns have been expressed about other Alberta regulators. A poll conducted for a provincial advisory committee found that 85% of Albertans believe the province’s energy industry is poorly governed.
Schmidt said his office received dozens of calls from concerned citizens about the proposed feedlot.
“It’s very rare that I get dozens of emails about a particular project,” he said. “It definitely caught people’s attention.”
G&S chief Greg Thalen declined interview requests.
300 statements of concern
Despite tight deadlines, more than 300 people filed statements of concern with the council, as did the Pigeon Lake Watershed Association.
Wetaskiwin County has asked for an environmental impact assessment of the project — something the council doesn’t normally do.
The board tries to make a decision on an application within 65 days, spokeswoman Janet Harvey said. However, this application is likely to take longer.
“It is anticipated that due to the large number of responses received for this application, processing will likely take longer,” she wrote in an email.