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Alberta farmers vow to keep up the fight against proposed motorsports park

The Alberta Environmental Appeals Board has dismissed a challenge by a group of concerned citizens regarding the construction of a motorsports park near the community of Rosebud.

The group has been fighting a 2020 Water Act approval by Alberta Environment and Protected Places.

The recent ruling from the Alberta Environmental Appeal Board allows for the development of the Badlands Motorsport Resort.

The panel determined there wasn’t enough evidence the racing complex would harm birds such as bank swallows, eagles and falcons.

The construction of the racetrack would fill in two wetlands and modify three others.

“The director acknowledged the Badlands Activities would have some limited impact on wildlife, as would any activity on previously-undeveloped agricultural lands. However, the director submitted the Badlands Activities, including the removal of two wetlands from the area, would have no significant effect on wildlife, including the bank swallow, and the little brown myotis,” states the ruling.

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The EAB ruling came with a condition that the approval holder must submit a wetland monitoring program proposal requiring them to submit a plan annually to determine the ecological health of the wetlands.

“This decision by the Province of Alberta is totally unacceptable. How is it that a large-scale, high-speed racetrack gets approved in critical habitat for a species at risk that is dying because of collisions with motor vehicles?” said Rick Skibsted, an adjacent landowner, farmer and winner of the 2018 J. Laslo Legacy Award for conservation.

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Skibsted noted that “collision with vehicles” is one of the reasons the bank swallow population is declining.

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Wendy Clark is another farmer spearheading the effort to halt the development.

Clark said she, like other farmers in the area, feels it’s their job to take care of this river valley.

She said she’s worried about the impact on the land, the water and the wildlife.

“Because of the drought, there’s even more pressure on the valley. Every inch of the habitat down there is necessary for the survival of wildlife,” Clark said.

The CFO of Badlands Motorsport Resort says  the primary racetrack is well above the Rosebud River and another potential track would dip into the valley.

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“Wildlife should not be impacted by the racetrack,” said James Zelazo on Friday “We abide by all the regulations and should there be some danger existing, we will either stall construction if that was the case, but there’s no evidence of that,”

The company hopes to begin construction this fall but Zelazo said its progress depends on financing.

Zelazo said he’s  confident the province will provide $11 million to pay for 75 per cent of the cost of paving and widening  a 10-km access road from Highway 9.

Global News reached out to Alberta Transportation for confirmation but did not receive an response regarding the funding situation.

The final project includes plan to build a $500-million motorsports park and residential complex near the Rosebud River, 100 km east of Calgary.

In a statement to Global News, the Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) said “it objects to the province’s latest move to prioritize development over the health of vital ecological spaces.”

“We can’t afford to lose anymore of the prairie habitat,” Ruiping Luo, conservation specialist with the AWA. “Especially not in areas confirmed to be critical habitat for at risk species, such as the bank swallow.”

“It’s basically going to fragment and destroy some of the wetlands,” Skibsted said.

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Skibsted noted that the drought has had a big impact on the land around Rosebud.

“Everything out here is dry, dry, dry.  We haven’t had runoff for years. Very few of our ponds and sloughs have water.  The development is basically destroying a unique set of wetlands at the site. It’s a paving over a huge area.  It’s a really bad idea,”

Skibsted noted that the area is popular with birdwatchers and people using canoes or  kayaks to paddle down down the river.

“If you ever float down the Rosebud River, it is so peaceful and quiet. It’s surreal almost,” Skibsted said

Clark said residents are not done fighting the project.

“We are optimistic. We are not at the end by any means.  We have many options ahead of us,” Clark said.

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