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‘We’re not very happy’: Residents opposing proposed Alberta racetrack not giving up despite regulatory ruling

Despite a recent setback at the Alberta Environmental Appeals Board (EAB), opponents of Badlands Motorsports’ proposed 4.8-kilometre road track near Rosebud, Alta., are not waving the checkered flag.

The racetrack, proposed to be built about two kilometres east of the hamlet, will affect wetlands adjacent to the Rosebud River, however, the EAB ruled that the environmental impact was insufficient to halt the project’s progress.

Alberta Environment Minister Rebecca Schultz endorsed the board’s decision on April 8, but Wendy Clark, a vocal racetrack opponent, believes the decision was predetermined.

“We’re not very happy with the way the decision went,” said Clark.

“But more than anything, we’re unhappy to discover that this, this decision was already decided before we ever went to the hearing.”

Clark’s allegation stems from a document she received through a Freedom of Information request (FOIP).

In the collection of documents she received, one was titled, “Bullet point for reappointment of board members.”

“The EAB currently has a large number of appeals before it dealing with economic development,” the document read in part.

It goes on to identify a project in Newell County, then directly refers to Badlands Motorsports.

”Another example is the Badlands Motorsports Resort near Rosebud. The timely resolution of the appeals before the EAB is important to ensure that these economically important projects can proceed,” the document read.

“It’s like they stacked the deck against us,” said Rick Skibsted, another racetrack opponent.

“They made us spend all that money, all that time preparing for it, and really, it was just an exercise in futility.”

Skibsted, a retired farmer, lives on a property adjacent to the proposed track. An avid birder and licenced falconer, he maintained the banks of the Rosebud River near the development are crucial for several protected migratory species.

“Those are unique wetlands. It’s actually under critical habitat (designation) for the bank swallows,” said Skibsted.

“I’ve always believed that that whole valley should be protected.”

James Zelazo, the CFO of Badlands Motorsports, said the opposition this project has received over a decade has hurt his company’s attempts to raise the money it needs to build the track.

He’s now confident it will ramp up after the ministerial approval.

“They’ve been creating negative publicity that does have an effect on our abilities to raise the funding, basically, memberships and things like that,” said Zelazo.

“They’ve been trying to defeat us. But … they have just been slowing us down.”

Zelazo says he expects both fundraising and construction to ramp up heading into the summer saying there could be shovels in the ground before the fall of 2024.

One other step before the track can proceed is the building of a 10-kilometre access road off of Highway 9.

Zelazo is confident the province will kick in $11 million to help pay for that upgrade.

Meanwhile, opponents say they will not give up the fight and are consulting lawyers to determine their next course of action.

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