Public hearing draws capacity crowd

"There is no benefit whatsoever to the actual people living there. Don't sell us down the racetrack, please." A public hearing of the Area Structure Plan (ASP) for The Badlands Motorsports Resort was packed Tuesday afternoon, June 11 to the point of standing room only, in a meeting room of the Three Hills Community Centre. Concerns and emotional appeals came from Rosebud area and Wheatland County residents, including their Reeve, as well as Kneehill County residents, citing self-serving motives of the planners and developers and lack of trust over the credentials behind the various environmental, noise and traffic assessments. One concerned person asked: "What are any of their qualifications for a project of this scope in such a fragile area?" The developers made much ado of the real feather in their cap, world-class road course designer Al Wilson. He does have highly visible qualifications as a world renowned track planner, claiming involvement with over 130 facilities, 33 of which he built. To get it all said, Kneehill County Council had to recess briefly at 4:30 p.m., to follow procedure and extend the hearing, from a start time of 1:00 pm. It was brought to a halt at 6:30 pm.
Though calm and civil, assertions from either side exemplified the disconnect between rural and urban values and thinking, with the affluent, white collar professionals on one side wanting to build this European-style resort, claiming the valley has a beautiful vista, appropriate for a challenging course on which to drive their Porches and Lamborghinis, and because golf is so yesterday, with comment: "Golf is on the decline and this sport is fast replacing it. Our resort, built into the topography of the badlands, with condominiums and restaurants is no different than ski hill developments and golf clubs in the mountains." It is their opinion that the objections heard this day were conjecture based on emotion with no factual argument, and that a resort of this nature could only benefit their rural lifestyle, suggesting that the fabric of the fabric of economy is too frayed and communities will die out. They touted a significantly increased tax base for the County, as well as tourism spin-offs such as B & B's, hotels, and arts & crafts. Another proponent of the project spoke of driving lessons that teach the 'maneuvering' tricks of the trade, for regular driver safety, except perhaps in winter when the tracks are proposed to be closed.
The planners gave assurances that of the three, six km road courses, there will be no 'professional' racing events that will attract huge crowds or create a need for multiple spectator grandstands. It was described as not being formula one racing like the Grand Prix - this will be courses built into the natural curves and flows of the topography of the badlands, where professional people can have a place to just enjoy the recreation of speeding their cars around a safe, professionally developed track, without getting a speeding ticket. It was asked to those opposing it, to alter your scary perception and think of it not as a race track but as a recreational facility, with motorsports as one of its elements.
At the opposing end of this spectrum are those with a zen-like affinity to the land, who are the rural agronomic backbone with an appreciation for their quieter, peaceful, socially-gaited community lifestyle. They feel proud and protective of their land and history and of the unique environments that is the badlands. "It's in the wrong place," stated a retired botanist. "Falcons nest and hunt in these areas. Think globally; act locally."
"We are agriculture, chemicals, dust, allergens, and equipment with slow-moving signs, said an area farmer. Our agricultural livelihood is time sensitive and we can't be asked to hold off spraying or harvest because it's a race day. This land conflicts with resorts. I don't see any farmers here with a Ferrari or Lamborghini."
The opposition cited lack of trust in the ASP, incompleteness on the assessment reports, including environmental, historical, wildlife, or even the calculations in the noise impact statement. It was argued that these calculations were derived from equipment that would average levels over a given time , labelled as 'equivalent continuous sound level', and that Karts or motorcycles were not included, and there was also no accounting for the acoustics of the badlands. Residents and landowners seemed offended at the lack of respect for agriculture, rural values and a sensitive environment, and cited ambiguities and discrepancies in information listed on web site vs the hard copy ASP, and charged the developer with lack of wisdom for thinking to build condominiums on this soil. Opposition demanded that County Council best do their own homework, and get third-party assessment reports.
Any access road to this proposed development site was just one of many major concerns for those long-time residents who had battled the unique soil of the badlands, the consistent wash-outs. Many know first-hand the clear challenges that the County has had in maintaining any roads through these coulee areas, and that widened and paved roads are no guarantee against the soils that have weathered into the badlands landscape.
One resident cautioned that the economic spin-off from tourism may not be as high as anticipated. The resort is insulated, self-contained and tourism benefits may not be realistic, exampling Tyrell Museum as a world renowned destination but yet, businesses in Drumheller still come and go.
There were many cynics in the crowd when developers gave assurances that their resort of European-style race tracks, club house, condominiums with capacity for 1400 people, restaurants, parking lots, garages, trails, noise, lights, traffic, and difficult-to-build and maintain roads would have no significant impact on the environment. Developers said these sites will all be rehabilitated and no potable water will be used for irrigation. We will not be moving thousands of cubic feet of soil. The wetlands, we won't impact it, don't want to and can't, not allowed to. Drainage is the single most difficult issue. Drainage will define what we finally do. It's critical. A number of questions were answered concerning: Traffic issues: We'll arrive before normal traffic. Noise for residents and wildlife: Even with three active road courses, the noise level will be that of a hair dryer." Lighting: Ambient to the area, just what is necessary for safety. Wildlife on the roads: We won't be going on gravel roads with these type of vehicles. This day also had its share of supporting comments. A Drumheller resident supported the track adding, "I can't wait. This will be a good place to drive my own street legal mustang. I don't know anywhere else I would be allowed to run it. I've been to the site and I can't see where there would be any further impact than what's already been allowed there."
Glenn Koester, Reeve of Wheatland County, stated: "It's my opinion that a project of this size is not appropriate use of the land." Glenn was in attendance to refute the use of his County's name within the ASP, as if his County had signed off on roadwork and widening. "We gave 'support in principle' but there were a number of conditions," such as "without expropriation of anyone's land to do it." "It must be done only with the free will of County landowners. None of this road widening is in Kneehill County, but in Wheatland. We take exception to having our name used like that. Wheatland County is not part of this ASP, and don't like our name being used as if we are." He also didn't like being named as a water customer, as if that too were a fact rather than a potential possibility, and added that storm sewers were not included in the riparian section. "The roads described in the ASP are not just oil and gas; they are used by farmers and residents too." He warned that going north, the road is steep, narrow and washes out severely. "Costs are too high and the use of this road is discouraged, but it is a more direct access, and this really worries me that pressure could be brought to bare to build and maintain it should the resort become a reality. An engineer can construct wondrous sights but no one can construct a valley as pristine as this." He was distressed with the dismissal of the hamlet of Rosebud in the reports as "transients", "without community", "on unproductive lands". "It is the 30th anniversary of Rosebud Theatre, 40th anniversary of Rosebud School of Arts, 100th anniversary of Rosebud Hotel, and 130th anniversary of the hamlet of Rosebud and it hasn't been hundreds of tourists; this hamlet has attracted tens of thousands of tourists."
"This resort deserves careful consideration and better planning." "It goes against the spirit of our County's Municipal Development Plan. This is 145 acres that will be taken out of production forever. This is not compatible with environment, and should be protected from inappropriate usage." More comments from the residents and landowners were, "The eye in the ocean just doesn't fit." "The bulk of this traffic will be going by my house." "We have been farming for over a century and there is no doubt this will have an impact on agriculture, rural way of life, wildlife, and environment." "We could go to Calgary, but chose to live here; it's private, there is a relationship with the land; it's a humble way of life." "I grew up to appreciate life, in a far different way than their children, riding on a combine and viewing this valley's fragile and beautiful nature." "This will jeopardize a way of life." "It just doesn't fit in this valley." "The real perception here is that its been on the books since 2005 and not approved, and its now 2013. The implications are they are trying to make it fit and its unrealistic. Wastewater amounts to a sketch and a few arrows."
Asked after the meeting if developers were surprised by the magnitude of the opposition and quality of arguments, Larry Paterson said "No, but a lot of it was an emotional reaction, with ambiguity and generalities and wrong facts. Studies show no negative noise impact. It is just a perception, and the reality is that there are 130 road courses in North America, none of which would survive if noise was an issue. Their's is an emotional reaction, but the reality is, it's not a big deal."
Further decisions on the passing of the ASP or rezoning by-law were deferred to Kneehill County Council's next general meeting. Residents asked Council to consider the what-ifs of resort failure, a new owner, bankruptcy from capital costs, liabilities, membership fees or continual maintenance. Other questions raised were: How are they raising the capital and what assurances are there of its continued financing? Who is responsible for the restoration of the valley if this fails? Council was asked not to take the risk and reminded this area is irreplaceable."