Residents fail to stop Alberta hog expansion

Neighbours worry about the effects on water and odour if a farm expands by 4,100 pigs in Lac Ste. Anne County

Despite concerns from more than a dozen neighbours and the county government, a hog producer in north-central Alberta has been given the go-ahead to expand his operation.

The Natural Resources Conservation Board, an arm’s-length government organization that deals with agriculture disputes in Alberta, has allowed Jurgen Preugschas, president of Pigs R Us, to expand his operation by 4,100 head.

The ruling means Preugschas can build a feeder barn and wash bay, as well as dig a four-metre manure storage pit on his farm near Mayerthorpe, Alta.

However, 14 residents and the local government, Lac Ste. Anne County, were opposed to the expansion, and are dissatisfied by ruling.

Their main concerns included the possibility of water being contaminated, odours and the location of the barn site.

“We’re not anti-farming,” Hannah Madsen, one of the people who raised concerns, said during an interview earlier this month. “It’s just that we have concerns about our long-term health of our water. We drink well water, and we need to know it’s going to be safe to drink.”

As well, concerns were raised about where Pigs R Us will be injecting manure. For instance, it’ll be spread about 100 metres from a neighbouring property.

While Preugschas acknowledged this concern, he said the manure will be spread there only about once every four years.

“We’ll talk to them before we spread, and we’ll leave a buffer zone,” he said during an interview. “It’s very regulated. We can’t overspread year after year so we don’t have environmental problems, and we keep track of it every year to make sure we don’t overload.”

However, those who raised concerns still take issue with the expansion.

In the board’s ruling documents, Lac Ste. Anne County argued the board should overturn the approval based on Pigs R Us’s “failure to adequately consider a number of issues raised by residents“ and by the company’s “history of non-compliance.”

Preugschas said he isn’t sure what the county is referring to regarding the non-compliance issue.

“Previously, the county gave this area the OK for intensive livestock, so I have no idea why they requested a review,” he said.

The Natural Resources Conservation Board agreed with Preugschas.

In the documents, the board stated that there aren’t any compliance issues and that the county remained “relatively inactive” throughout the review of Pigs R Us’s application.

Officials with Lac Ste. Anne County declined to comment.

The board ruled that those who raised concerns didn’t have enough proof to back up their claims.

While the board understood odour will affect neighbouring residents of the barn, it said the effects will be “trivial.”

As well, the board said it can’t control where operators spread, as long as the spreading activity is on their land or on lands that they have secured through signed agreements with neighbours.

As for drainage, the board said it was satisfied with an assessment that stated the risk of leeching is low.

Preugschas said the ruling shows that evidence wins in the end.

“This proves the system does work and that emotion cannot override evidence when you scientifically follow the rules,” he said. “It used to be that emotions would win, but now that has changed.”

Still, neighbours opposed to the site feel the board didn’t listen to their concerns.

“It’s really frustrating to feel like no one is listening,” Madsen said. “I guess we’re going to have to wait and see. Fingers crossed that nothing goes wrong.”

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