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Willow Creek MD approves new colony east of Claresholm

The MD of Willow Creek Municipal Planning Commission approved a new Hutterite colony east of Claresholm.

At its Sept. 8 meeting, the MPC reviewed an application to establish a new colony at the west half of 33-12-25-4,

The application had been tabled Aug. 11 for more information.

At that meeting planning and development manager Cindy Chisholm explained in December 2020, an application for a colony south of Claresholm was denied. The colony then sought out a new location.

The development, occurring in three phases, would involve construction of a kitchen building; sanitary evaporation lagoon; up to 16 modular homes; a school; a plumbing, electrical, water treatment building; and installation of utilities in Phase 1 in fall of 2021.

Phase 2, starting in spring of 2024, would involve construction of a church; kindergarten building; slaughterhouse; storage building; and four townhouses.

Phase 3 is future development, with no set date, involving construction of two townhouses and a mechanic shop building

About 120 people would live at the proposed new colony.

The application was submitted by the colony, in care of Dan Hofer and Wood Environment and Infrastructure Solutions with agent Stacey Russell present at the meeting.

Beth Roemmele, who is an adjacent land owner, spoke in opposition, pointing out the rural general land use district is intended to protect agriculture, noting the colony would have an abattoir, church, kitchen, school, confined feeding operation as well as townhomes and modular homes.

Roemmele asked if the additional homes would have to be approved separately  and asked what happens to the modular homes, when the townhomes are built.

Roemmele pointed out  the modular homes are temporary but said they must be prohibited because a trailer park is a prohibited use in this land use district. She also noted a colony is not listed as a use in the rural general district.

Roemmele said the density of the development is uncharacteristic of rural general and is the opposite of private rural living.

Roemmele also noted if the density of the development increases there should be an area structure plan.

Another concern is the odour from the sewage lagoon.

Roemmele concluded by saying the timing of this application is not in the spirit of being a good neighbour. In the midst of a pandemic, a fire a few months ago, and now in the middle of a harvest with a yield 20 per cent of other years, it is difficult for producers to make informed comment.

Roemmele asked the application be tabled.

Gail Fjordbotten is a member of the Badger Flats water well association which has nine members who draw water from the Carmangay aquifer.

Fjordbotten stressed there is no water in that area so users rely on the well, which was drilled in 1986 after people had been hauling water for 50 years.

Initially, water was pushed 14 feet in the air. Fjordbotten said 12 feet were lost when a major feedlot was built, so there was a 26-foot drop.

Fjordbotten said the aquifer won’t recharge. He was curious the colony is pumping water in a well three-quarters of a mile upstream, two more wells will be drilled, and a six-inch line is proposed.

Fjordbotten said that seems excessive, emphasizing the aquifer re-charges slowly and the re-charge time is unknown.

Fjordbotten is not opposed to the colony but wants to know where they will get their water. He talked to two hydrologists who don’t know how the aquifer recharges.

Phillip Roemmele, an adjacent land owner, said the Carmangay channel is the only source of water for families and feedlots.

Roemmele alluded to a home built in 1917 whose upstairs bathroom was supplied by an artesian well because there was that much water pressure. When his family bought the place in the late 1990s, it still had enough pressure. In 2015, they had to drill a new well and still had problems drawing water and they now use a submersible pump.

Roemmele said the aquifer is in trouble now and doesn’t need anymore large users drawing on it.

Earl Hemmaway, another adjacent land owner, said the colony needs 92 cubic metres a day which is eight million gallons a year which he said seems extravagant.

Hemmaway said testing should occur now and not in the spring when the wells are better. He also wants to know what another nearby colony is drawing from the channel.

Jeff Gutsell of Alberta Environment and Parks joined the meeting via video conference and said there obviously is concern.

“Recharge is a big unknown,” Gutsell said.

Gutsell outlined the process used when an application for diversion of water is submitted to ensure interference to the water system is not significant.

Coun. Darry Markle asked who monitors use after a licence is issued.

Gutsell said an observation well is required with the applicant required to submit reports that can range from daily to monthly.

John Lobbezoo of Wood Environment and Infra-structure Solutions, said the plans won’t compromise the water supply. The inclusion of a six-inch line on the plans was arbitrary.

“It will not be a six-inch line,” Lobbezoo said. “We are looking at a three-inch line.”

Lobbezoo stressed there is no intention of surging the line at the colony. Instead there likely will be a reducer on the line, with supply at the colony balanced by filling two 10,000-gallon tanks.

Lobbezoo said there is a chance Alberta Environment won’t give them a licence so their back-up plan is to secure water from the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District.

Reeve Maryanne Sandberg asked Gutsell if it did not make sense to test throughout the year.

Gutsell responded every application is held to the same criteria, and generally they do not ask for that.

Sandberg asked what would he do if the criteria is wrong, they don’t listen to factual history from land owners and the water is gone.

Gutsell said if they have a concern they should contact a 1-800 hotline to document it, adding this is the first he has heard of a 40-foot drop.

“We will look at this and we won’t take it lightly,” Gutsell said.

Hemmaway asked if there is a contingency plan if wells go dry.

Sandberg said that is a question for Alberta Environment.

Gutsell said it will hopefully be caught before reaching that point, noting they will have to use one dedicated observation well.

Sandberg asked why a six-inch line was arbitrary and now a three-inch line is proposed.

Lobbezoo said no size at all should have been included on the plan.

One of the members of the colony said a six-inch line was listed on the advice of the driller.

Council discussed the application in closed session later in the day and, upon reverting to open session, approved the application. One of the conditions was securing water from the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District as the applicant proposed.

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