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Hutterian Brethren apply to start new colony in MD of Willow Creek

The MD of Willow Creek Municipal Planning Commission considered an application for a new Hutterian Brethren colony south of Claresholm.

At its Dec. 9 meeting, the MPC reviewed an application by the Hutterian Brethren Church of Granum to establish a new colony consisting of 16 temporary modular homes; five to seven townhouses with four units each; kitchen; church; school with gym; Kindergarten and storage; shop with machinery, mechanic, and carpentry; slaughter house; storage building; waste water lagoon; and cemetery at the south half of 25-11-28-4 southwest of Claresholm.

Before any discussion began, Coun. Evan Berger, chair of the MPC, asked if anyone on the commission wished to make a statement regarding conflict of interest.

Coun. John Kroetsch, reading from a prepared statement, said there was a question of whether he was in conflict due to past dealings he had with the colony.

Kroetsch said as local, elected representatives they often review applications from people they know. He has no pecuniary interest, no dealings with the colony, and no interest in the land.

Therefore, Kroetsch said he can review the application without bias.

Planning and development manager Cindy Chisholm introduced the application, noting the colony was established in 1930 as a division from the Standoff Hutterite Colony. Granum Hutterite Colony is  established on the south half of 28-10-27-4.

A development application has been submitted by the colony, care of Dan Hofer, and agent Stacey Russell with Wood Environment and Infrastructure Solutions, to request approval for a new colony.

About 120 to 150 people would occupy the proposed colony.

The applicants have already received approval to construct a chicken layer barn for a total of 20,000 chicken layers, no pullets, and a manure storage area, attached to the barn.

The construction completion deadline is Dec. 31, 2023, which may be extended with written request.

Part 1 of the NRCB application included the following total proposed livestock numbers: chicken layers, 20,000; chicken boilers, 6,000; ducks, 600; geese, 400; and turkey boilers, 300.

There are about 31 residential homes within a two-mile radius of the proposed location, and two residential homes within a half mile of the proposed location.

Meadow Creek Road, that Township Road 114, lies to the south of the property boundary and Range Road 280 lies to the east of property boundary. Meadow Creek meanders through the south half quarters.

There were several adjacent land owners who shared their concerns about the application.

Each one entered the room, made a presentation, and left the room, in order to observe health guidelines to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Vonda Chatterton was the first, sharing concerns she broke into three categories: impact on the community; nuisances; and long-term consequences.

The impact on the community included traffic; water and the impact of the colony on neighbouring wells which have run out of water in the past already; the smell and insects from the lagoon; the potential for contamination of surface and ground water; living in a flood plain; and the area flooding historically.

Nuisances included smell and flies from the lagoon; and dust from increased traffic which will have a negative impact on those with asthma.

Long-term consequences were divided in sections.

One pattern Chatterton observed is memory loss, that conditions of a confined feeding operation approval that are not observed over time.

Chatterton cited several examples. Manure was supposed to be incorporated but was stockpiled. They were approved for 2,000 head but that increased to 4,000. Chicken carcasses were dumped in a field instead of bing appropriately disposed.

The second pattern was transparency, and in particular what else is coming, Chatterton asked. She observed the fragmented approach to development that started with a feedlot, that was denied; a chicken barn, which was approved; and now a colony.

Chatterton noted a neighbour went to the applicant asking what else was coming. They said nothing, so he had a contract drawn up by a lawyer to that effect, and they would not sign it.

Chatterton concluded by noting the applicant owns 147 quarter sections, so there are other places to site the development.

The remaining speakers, covered many of the same points.

Byron Westwell lives across the road from the proposed colony. He felt, with COVID-19 preventing everyone from gathering together to hear all the information, the MPC should postpone the meeting until everyone could meet together.

His concerns included the number of families in the area affected by the development; an increase in traffic in front of his house; more dust and wear and tear on roads; the impact on his property values should he choose to sell; the impact on water wells, with a huge development drawing on water; and the size of the slaughter house, and what is its purpose.

Chief administrative officer Derrick Krizsan said the meeting was conducted in accordance with official procedures, pointing out the MD of Willow Creek had timelines to abide by once an application was deemed to be complete, as this one was.

Allan Minor is another adjacent land owner, one of the closest neighbours to this colony.

Minor compared the number of residences in a two-mile radius, at 31, to the proposed colony, to other colonies.

Minor said there were six by the Granum Colony; three by White Lake; one by Clear Lake; three by Spring Point; one by Little Bow; four by Parkland; zero by Cayley; and five by Livingstone Colony.

Buck Thompson was concerned about the neighbouring properties to the development.

“Those neighbours have everything they own on the line here,” Thompson said.

Thompson asked the MPC to look at the sensitivity of the land, and historic information such as a previous flood washing a neighbour’s septic tank away.

Don Chatterton said he represented himself and the neighbours, especially those not comfortable public speaking.

Chatterton expressed several concerns, including about flooding.

“Why would you want to build on a flood plain?” Chatterton asked.

Chatterton also asked why the slaughterhouse was so big.

John Lobbezoo of Wood Environment and Infrastructure Solutions, was present and responded to some of the comments.

Lobbezoo said they do not take lightly the comments of the neighbours.

Lobbezoo stressed they are not looking to circumvent the process or take advantage of loopholes.

“We’re here to be straightforward,” Lobbezoo said.

Lobbezoo said the area is an historic flood plain, but they will ensure buildings are set above that point.

As for the lawyer’s letter presented for the applicants to sign, Lobbezoo said that would put an indefinite moratorium on development which the applicant was not prepared to sign.

There are also options on the design of the lagoon. It could be pre-treated and spread by incorporation.

“We are early on in this process,” Lobbezoo said. “I think there is some mitigation that can go with that.”

Finally, regarding the water supply, Lobbezoo said wells need to be registered and licensed properly.

A question and answer period followed.

Reeve Maryanne Sandberg asked if a draw down test has been done to see what the impact of the development would be on neighbouring wells.

Russell responded they cannot register a well until they demonstrate a need for water.

Coun. Ian Sundquist asked why choose this location for the development, especially with concerns about flooding, bridges being a problem and others.

Sundquist asked about property near Clear Lake that had only 10 residents in the area, and lots of water from the Carmangay Channel aquifer.

Sundquist also asked if the colony thought about approaching the failed Twin Valley Resort developers who have access to water and two highways and no danger of flooding.

Russell said they looked at aerial photos and saw no evidence of flooding in the area proposed for housing development and chicken barns.

Sandberg asked where the cemetery will be located.

Russell said she was not sure because a geotechnical study had to be done.

Sandberg asked why that was not done before the application was filed.

Russell responded the main reason is money.

Coun. Glen Alm said he needed more information before he could make a decision, such as drawn down and recovery testing for water wells.

Alm also asked what the slaughterhouse would be used for.

Dan Hofer was present and said it would be government inspected. The reason for the size is they cannot do their beef on the same floor as chickens. It has to be a separate floor. There will also be storage inside, acting like a root cellar.

Coun. Darry Markle said he agreed with Sundquist about looking at alternate sites, and like Alm, wanted more information.

In the end, one of the members of the commission was unable to stay at the meeting.

The MPC agreed to table making a decision on the application until a special meeting of the commission on Dec. 16 when all members were present.

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