Wheatland County residents are voicing concerns regarding plans for the Badlands Motorsport Resort (BMR) to be developed on the border of Wheatland and Kneehill counties.
The proposed $400 million project would occupy 172 acres within Kneehill County, located along the Red Deer River watershed with frontage along Rosebud River.
The site boundaries parallel those of Wheatland County on the west and south side, and is roughly four km from the Hamlet of Rosebud.
Concerns over the development plans for the resort range from environmental and noise impacts to a lack of significant financial return for the area.
Several letters to county authorities request support in asking the Province of Alberta to conduct a neutral Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on the proposed project site.
A similar letter penned by retired noise consultant Paul Lassen, is addressed to the Director of Alberta Environment and Parks, Tom Dickson, and requests a renewed EIA.
“The BMR development will … catastrophically impact the economic viability of the entire hamlet of Rosebud, of which the sole economic driver of the hamlet proper is the theatre and arts school,” said Lassen in his letter.
Lassen added he reviewed the Noise Impact Assessment (NIA) which was prepared in 2009 for the BMR at the time the development originally came before Kneehill County Council for approval.
He said he had deemed the NIA, which was prepared by the developer, to be “rife” with error, and was of a substandard quality that did not stand up to third party review. Lassen explained he believed the assessment to be biased and from an unqualified source.
A presentation prepared by Save the Rosebud outlines both the threat the BMR poses to the viability of the local economy, as well as to 26 provincially listed, and 14 federally listed sensitive animal species.
Paul Muir, executive director of the Rosebud Theatre and School of the Arts, said from the perspective of the school and the theatre, they need to know the impact the noise from the resort will have on the operations of the facility.
“From our point of view here at Rosebud School of the Arts and Rosebud Theatre, we need to know what the actual impact is going to be of this development … It’s hard to know, really, what to do without really good, accurate and clear data,” said Muir. “It’s difficult to say if in fact the noise is going to be at a level where it actually is intrusive, not only on residents here in Rosebud, but also on visitors to Rosebud … if it’s actually intrusive in a way that it deters visitors to Rosebud from coming, that’s a problem for us.”
Muir explained many of the tourists and students who visit Rosebud come for the theatre and dining experience, as well as to get away from the city and noise of an urban environment.
Save the Rosebud, represented by Wendy Clark, approached Wheatland County Council on June 15 asking them to support a letter to Dickson to approve an EIA of the BMR.
A report brought forward by Richard Harrison to support Clark’s presentation to Wheatland County Council referenced Sections 43 and 44, subsection three of the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act.
The reference noted that a Director of Alberta Environment and Parks (Dickson) has the discretion to require an environmental impact assessment.
According to Section 44, subsection three, when a director feels a project is of such a threshold that they need to decide whether the project is in fact in the public interest, they will/may require an environmental impact assessment for a project.
The project proponent, in this case, Badlands Motorsport Resort, would pay for and prepare the EIA, submit it to the Director of Alberta Environment and Parks, and the director will determine whether the report meets any assigned requirements.
Wheatland County Council voted 4-3 against supporting a letter to Dickson requesting the EIA, opting instead to not take a position on the request.
“The motion on the floor was to send a letter to a Director with Alberta Environment and Parks requesting that they use their authority to order an environmental impact assessment. That motion was defeated by the majority of council,” said Wheatland County Reeve Amber Link.
Link herself voted in favour of the motion, though emphasized she supports both the ultimate decision of council, as well as Kneehill County’s autonomy in making decisions about how land under their jurisdiction is used.
She also noted though impacts of the project will be felt in Wheatland County, local administration has not been directed to fully analyze any potential impacts of the development.
“It’s a very complex development and unique in the sense that much of the impacts will be felt in Wheatland County even though the development is at this point only development in Kneehill County,” she said. “We haven’t done thorough analysis of potential positive impacts. Hypothetically, development can have positive impacts – I’m thinking economically, spin-off, that type of thing.”
According to Cheryl Taylor, who supports Save the Rosebud, a similar request of Kneehill County to support a letter to Alberta Environment and Parks was also “Ignored.”
“It’s no secret that Kneehill County was always favourable to the Badlands Motorsports Racetrack for all the glitter and gold it offers to its cash-strapped municipality,” said Taylor.
“Stars in their eyes has clouded good judgement and compromised values including that of being a good neighbour to Wheatland County knowing that 90 per cent of the impact from Badlands Motorsports would be on Wheatland residents.”
Muir expressed further expression regarding a lack of local public interest in the development, as high-speed motorsports are “a rich person’s game,” which he added many of the residents of Rosebud are not in the tax bracket to afford to participate in.
“It doesn’t mean that people in Rosebud may not be fans of cars, and maybe even expensive and exotic cars, but you’d have to have means to really be an enthusiast in the way that they’re going,” he said.
The cost of a “Gold Membership” with Rockyview Motorsports Corporation, an organization within the same industry that operates a track east of Carstairs, is $45,000 with additional annual dues of $3,500.
Taylor added anyone wishing to support Save The Rosebud can voice their concerns in letters to the Premier as well as in asking for an EIA from the Director of Alberta Environment.
Additionally, more documents and details about the BMR project are available through the Save the Rosebud website.
by John Watson
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter – Strathmore Times