Op­po­nents to mo­tor­sports re­sort con­tinue fight

The Drumheller Mail - - NEWS - Kyle Smylie

The re­port­ing last week of Bad­lands Mo­tor­sports Re­sort’s fi­nal doc­u­ment sub­mis­sion for county ap­proval has re­newed lo­cal op­po­si­tion to the project con­cern­ing the po­ten­tial threat to wildlife and habi­tat in the Rose­bud river val­ley.

It was re­ported in the May 4 edi­tion of The Drumheller Mail that Bad­lands Mo­tor­sports Re­sort (BMR), an es­ti­mated $400 mil­lion re­cre­ational, 525 acre non-spec­ta­tor Euro­pean-style race club and re­sort planned for de­vel­op­ment near the ham­let of Rose­bud, had sub­mit­ted a com­pre­hen­sive site de­vel­op­ment plan and sub­di­vi­sion ap­pli­ca­tion to Knee­hill County. Di­rec­tor and CFO James Ze­lazo said Bad­lands Mo­tor­sports ex­pects the doc­u­ments to be ap­proved in a few months, with de­vel­op­ment to be­gin later this year if ap­proved by Knee­hill County.

The op­po­si­tion to the project, “Save the Rose­bud,” which The Mail is told in­cludes more than 100 landown­ers and res­i­dents in both Knee­hill and Wheat­land coun­ties, has voiced their op­po­si­tion to the project, which has been in de­vel­op­ment since 2008.

De­vel­op­ment was stalled by lit­i­ga­tion and le­gal ac­tions en­acted by Wheat­land County over road use which have since been ironed out.

Wendy Clark, a landowner ad­ja­cent to the pro­posed project area, feels the project, lo­cated about 5 kilo­me­tres from Rose­bud, is a threat to sen­si­tive and highly sig­nif­i­cant wet­lands and nat­u­ral habi­tat that's home to a num­ber of en­dan­gered bird species like bank swal­lows, golden ea­gles, prairie fal­cons, and song­birds.

Clark says the area is one of the few re­main­ing places where cliff-nest­ing birds can sur­vive.

“If you risk the Rose­bud River val­ley and de­stroy it with pave­ment, noise, and pol­lu­tion from race cars, it is gone for­ever. Lost wildlife habi­tat means lost wildlife. Ev­ery loss is cu­mu­la­tive,” said Clark, who says the pro­posed project is lo­cated within an area of Knee­hill County with the high­est en­vi­ron­men­tal sig­nif­i­cance, a land area com­pris­ing about 7 per cent of the county.

“What sense does it make to build a race­track in that 7 per cent? We live where the land­scape is al­ready cul­ti­vated and de­vel­oped and these wa­ter cour­ses are a re­ally small per­cent of the lands we live in… it’s a water­shed that is frag­ile and in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion now. Wa­ter is life. A race­track would risk that.”

An­other ad­ja­cent landowner to the project, Rick Sk­ib­sted, who also is a hobby fal­coner, con­firmed the wet­lands near Rose­bud are an es­tab­lished habi­tat for birds of prey and fears the project, with its in­her­ent noise, pol­lu­tion, and hu­man in­ter­fer­ence, will dis­turb the birds' nat­u­ral habi­tat and desta­bi­lize the lo­cal ecol­ogy.

"I don’t think the raptors (birds of prey) will re­main in the area with a race­track so close nearby,” said Sk­ib­sted. “The cars will im­pact what will con­tinue to sur­vive there.

Mem­bers of “Save the Rose­bud” do not trust the claim made by Bad­lands Mo­tor­sports’ that the project is be­ing de­signed with a “no-net-loss of wet­lands” pol­icy, as out­lined on their web­site and in press re­leases.

The com­pany has said that en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive ar­eas are to be pre­served and en­hanced by the project, not de­stroyed. Nu­mer­ous en­vi­ron­men­tal and eco­log­i­cal stud­ies have been con­ducted by Bad­lands Mo­tor­sports Re­sort in de­vel­op­ment of the project, in­clud­ing a sed­i­ment and ero­sion con­trol plan, a stormwa­ter man­age­ment plan, an en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact as­sess­ment, as well as ar­chae­ol­ogy stud­ies in their April 19 sub­mis­sion to Knee­hill County.

Ap­prox­i­mately 25 acres of the prop­erty ad­ja­cent to the Rose­bud River has been des­ig­nated by de­vel­op­ers as an en­vi­ron­men­tal ease­ment re­serve and will be con­served for pub­lic re­cre­ation and en­joy­ment, the com­pany said. A series of berms around the course are also planned to re­duce noise.

“The habi­tat, bio­di­ver­sity, and nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment of the site will be pre­served and en­hanced as it is those fea­tures that make the lo­ca­tion so at­trac­tive to re­sort vis­i­tors,” a press re­lease reads.

But Save the Rose­bud does not be­lieve such a project can ex­ist with­out hav­ing an en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact.

“It’s lu­di­crous to think that the de­vel­op­ers can do this with­out hav­ing a huge af­fect on the en­vi­ron­ment. I know it’s dif­fi­cult to find lo­ca­tions for a race­track, but to keep try­ing to shoe­horn this into land that just isn’t ap­pro­pri­ate for it is wrong,” said Wendy Clark.

A num­ber of landown­ers in the Rose­bud river val­ley have put to­gether plans to pur­chase the lands back in order to es­tab­lish a con­ser­va­tion land trust to en­sure the protection of the ecosys­tem, but this al­ter­na­tive hinges on Bad­lands Mo­tor­sports sell­ing the land back.

The group had of­fered $700,000 plus ex­penses to BMR for the land in 2013, but the com­pany de­clined the of­fer, say­ing it was un­rea­son­ably low, but Save the Rose­bud mem­bers are will­ing to in­crease the of­fer.

Not all landown­ers in Rose­bud are against de­vel­op­ment of the project.

LaVerne Erickson, a Travel Al­berta Am­bas­sador who has lived in Rose­bud for 50 years and has seen the ham­let’s grad­ual de­cline, says there are a num­ber of res­i­dents and ratepay­ers in the area who would like to see the eco­nomic ben­e­fit any project in the area would bring.

“I think it’s a real tem­pest in a teapot… Things just have to be put into perspective. I know that this is­sue has pushed a red-hot but­ton and has turned neigh­bours against neigh­bours, and it makes it dif­fi­cult for peo­ple to live side by side when one per­son is on one side of an is­sue and their neigh­bour is on the other,” said Erickson.

“We re­ally need eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment to keep us alive, but as it’s a self-con­tained re­sort, I am un­sure of how much this project will ben­e­fit Rose­bud it­self. But I do know fight­ing each other does not help the econ­omy. The Al­berta gov­ern­ment, with the cur­rent econ­omy, is hop­ing that tourism will pick up the slack that’s been left by the re­source in­dus­try, and in de­clin­ing ru­ral economies in par­tic­u­lar.”

The Calgary Her­ald re­ported in De­cem­ber 2013 that the de­vel­op­ment could gen­er­ate up to $2.3 mil­lion in an­nual prop­erty taxes for the county, but The Mail could not in­de­pen­dently ver­ify that claim by press time.

While some claim that Bad­lands Mo­tor­sports Re­sort will ruin the ecol­ogy of the Rose­bud river val­ley, Erickson said there are some res­i­dents there who de­scribe the ex­is­tence of the set­tle­ment of Rose­bud it­self as the be­gin­ning of the de­struc­tion of the Rose­bud river val­ley.

“The most de­struc­tive thing that’s hap­pened to the river is the mono­cul­ture of farm­ing and the (pes­ti­cide) spray­ing that’s killed off almost all the song­birds, bees, and has al­ready jeop­ar­dized other wildlife.”

“The first peo­ple that lived here were the in­dige­nous peo­ple who got pushed out by ranch­ers, who were pushed out by farm­ers, and the farm­ers are ba­si­cally self-de­struc­t­ing be­cause the mas­sive agri­cul­ture in­dus­try is de­stroy­ing small com­mu­ni­ties… hav­ing a vi­able tourism al­ter­na­tive to the re­sort here would help the econ­omy and we should be look­ing at the eco­nomic ben­e­fit that will ac­crue to all of us.”

“But we need to know that what’s hap­pen­ing (with this project) is the right thing to do.”

The Reeve of Knee­hill County did not re­turn re­quests for an in­ter­view as of press time.

The Reeve of Wheat­land County Glenn Koester said that the county had reached an agree­ment with BMSR and is not tak­ing a stance on an is­sue in an­other mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

It's lu­di­crous to think de­vel­op­ers can do this with­out hav­ing a huge af­fect on the en­vi­ron­ment." Wendy Clark, "Save the Rose­bud"

photo sub­mit­ted

Aerial pho­to­graph of the wet­lands and habi­tat sur­round­ing the pro­posed Bad­lands Mo­tor­sports Re­sort near Rose­bud. Lo­cal op­po­si­tion to the es­ti­mated $400 mil­lion re­cre­ational, non-spec­ta­tor sports re­sort and race­track has been re­newed fol­low­ing the project de­vel­oper’s sub­mis­sion of doc­u­ments to Knee­hill County late last month.

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