Old is new in hog barn approvals

Public opposition has not gone away after a decade of no development

Old is new in hog barn approvals

The first application under a new protocol for approving hog barns in Manitoba has run into an old problem: local opposition.

The Rural Municipality of Oakview council last month turned down an application for a 6,000-space feeder/finish operation near Rivers even though a technical review committee report said it met the necessary requirements.

Council gave no official reason for the rejection. Reeve Brent Fortune declined to comment.

But some local residents see the application as an attempt by the province and the industry to ram an unpopular project down their throats.

“This is an attempt to force an industry on an increasingly unwilling public,” said Jon Crowson, a retired farmer who spoke against the proposed operation at a public conditional use hearing in Oak River December 19.

Others at the meeting also voiced their opposition. Council rejected the proposal the following day.

The application by local farmer Wim Verbruggen was the first under a new government protocol to allow construction of new and expanded hog barns in Manitoba. Several more are in the pipeline.

The new procedure is supposed to make it easier to build new barns after the former NDP government enacted restrictions in 2011 which virtually shut down hog barn construction throughout the province.

The question now is how Manitoba’s hog industry will expand if municipal councils reject even modest efforts to ease building restrictions.

The events in Oakview municipality bring back memories of 15 to 20 years ago, when local residents repeatedly packed community halls to oppose hog barn applications because of environmental concerns, especially odour.

Such protests have decreased lately because of the government’s restrictions, plus a prolonged economic slump in the hog industry when few barns were being built anyway.

But some worry about a return to those days, now that the industry is recovering and new applications are coming forward.

“We’re back to the 1990s, if this is going to carry on, where municipal councillors are dealing with issues that we thought, and everybody agreed, they weren’t going to get involved in,” said Andrew Dickson, Manitoba Pork Council general manager.

Dickson was referring to changes in 2006 to the Planning Act limiting restrictions rural municipalities could put on hog operations. The reason for the changes was that the province felt RMs were straying into areas outside their jurisdiction.

But Crowson said those changes took authority away from local officials, put it in the hands of government, and public resentment has been simmering ever since.

“The province in its infinite wisdom has essentially gutted any opportunity for municipal input in this process through the (changes to) the Planning Act,” he said. “I would suggest to you that this pretty much makes a mockery of the so-called conditional use process.”

The technical review committee report gave Verbruggen’s application a passing grade, saying it met all of the setback, odour control, manure disposal and other requirements.

But Crowson and others claimed the report was flawed because it failed to consider that a proposed earthen manure storage lagoon was situated right over a surface watercourse.

That put the proposal in direct violation of provincial environmental law, Crowson argued.

“I don’t see how council can continue to give further consideration to this proposal, given clear non-compliance with the Environment Act,” he told the conditional use hearing.

Council had three options: to accept the proposal as it was, to reject it, or to accept it with additional measures, including shelterbelts and lagoon covers. It voted against the application by a vote of 5-0 with one abstention.

Dickson said he was disappointed that Verbruggen’s application met all the necessary standards but was turned down anyway.

It now remains to be seen what happens to other applications pending under the new protocol.

That includes a proposed $9-million swine genetics facility in the RM of Woodlands by the Dutch company Topigs Norsvin. Local residents have voiced strong opposition to the plan, saying it is just another hog barn by a different name.

Dickson said he hoped the Oakview experience won’t put a damper on other applications.

“We hope there are going to be municipalities that understand economic development is good and the hog industry is a real potential driver of economic development in their communities.”

Up to now, the previous NDP government had made it nearly impossible to build new and expanded hog operations. Under the Save Lake Winnipeg Act adopted in 2011, new barns would require prohibitively expensive anaerobic digesters for manure treatment.

Manitoba Pork and the province last year reached an agreement allowing new barns under certain conditions. That included having two lagoons for manure storage as equivalent to an anaerobic digester.

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