Invermere’s micro-abattoir is another small step closer to becoming a reality.
The Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) board of directors made a text amendment at their Friday, May 3rd meeting to a zoning bylaw that would allow for an abattoir to be built on a lot near the Invermere crossroads, albeit with some limitations.
The limitations specify that buildings on the lot, owned by the Windermere District Farmers’ Institute, must be 1,700 square feet (160 square metres) or smaller, occupy less than one hectare (2.46 acres), be at least 280 metres (918 feet) from the highway and must have no more than 10 animals outside at a time.
The bylaw, number 2448, received third reading and was submitted for approval to the Province. If it meets with provincial approval, it will come back to the board for adoption.
A public hearing on the proposed text amendment on Wednesday, April 24th at the Windermere Community Hall drew 170 residents. Some were strongly in favour of the proposed abattoir while others were strongly opposed, at least to its location.
“There were some fears that this could grow in size and numbers to thousands of animals,” District of Invermere mayor Gerry Taft said at the regional district meeting,
adding that the bylaw’s limitations would make it clear to the public that this scenario would not be possible.
“In all fairness (to the Farmer’s Institute), the concept has been there many, many years,” said regional district Area G director Gerry Wilkie. “I think the homework has been done.”
Mr. Wilkie said abattoir opponents are mainly concerned about smell and visibility, both of which are unlikely to be a problem since the site is already about 300 metres away from the highway, is tucked behind a BC Hydro substation, and from some angles would be partially blocked from view by a nearby golf course maintenance shed.
“Part of the concern is the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) thing,” he said, adding that the Windermere Riding Club keeps 40 horses near the site and their smell has never been an issue.
“I think it’s a misconception from the community,” said Mr. Wilkie. “I can virtually guarantee there will be no smell from the animals.”
“I don’t buy the smell thing,” said Canal Flat mayor Ute Juras. “Even if there are are going to be some odours, it’s putting people to work and it’s helping the economy to grow.”
Even the occasionally foul odours wafting out of the Canal Flats pulp mill are a tolerable tradeoff for jobs, said Ms. Juras, adding that there’s no way the abattoir will smell even remotely as bad as the mill.
“It’s a good project and it will bring economic development,” she said. “I don’t like going against public opinion but in this case I will.”
Regional District area A director Mike Sosnowski said he used to work in a slaughterhouse and can attest that although the smell inside is pretty bad, the smell outside is not terrible.
“There are many reasons for the abattoir to move forward; I wish it was in my area,” said Mr. Sosnowski.
“Having an abattoir in Invermere is really important and we need to do whatever we can to support agriculture in the valley,” said Cranbrook mayor Wayne Stetski.
Not all directors agreed.
“We did hear pretty loud and clear from the closest neighbours of the proposed abattoir that they are not in support of it,” said regional district Area F director Wendy Booth. “I still feel our job is to listen to the public.”
Ms. Booth said she thought the public hearing did help eliminate some of the public’s fears about the abattoir but, aside from the hearing, the Farmers’ Institute didn’t communicate their plans for the abattoir to the public well enough.
“There just aren’t any people next door that are supportive of it,” she said. “The Farmers’ Institute does have other location options.”
The district received 103 submissions opposing the abattoir as part of the public hearing process and 67 in support, said Ms. Booth.
“Virtually every single neighbour is opposed to it — not the concept, but the location,” she said.
Mr. Taft agreed that many local residents at the public hearing were concerned the location was too prominent, but said he thinks they are mistaken.
“It’s an argument I don’t fully agree with. Once the abattoir is built, most people probably won’t even notice it. Like the horses that are there now — most people don’t even know they’re there,” he said. There are other potential locations for the abattoir, but each of those is bound to have neighbours who don’t want to be next to a slaughterhouse.
“I honestly believe most of the opposition was overstated. It was a knee-jerk reaction. It was an emotional reaction based on partial information,” said Mr. Taft.
“There is a strong element in the community that recognizes the need for economic diversification,” agreed Mr. Wilkie, adding the abattoir not only fits that bill, but would be a great way to tap into the growing trend of local food production.
“It’s economically important and with appropriate screening it will simply not be visible,” he said.
The motion to amend the text was carried with three members of the board of directors, including Ms. Booth, opposed.
The regional district also voted not to proceed with a motion to change the zoning of Lot 48, on the east side of Columbia Lake, from resort and recreational to agricultural. The motion to change the zoning was started years ago, and the board decided to rescind it and start in a new direction.
“The board will proceed with zoning that matches what the current owner wants to do with the land — which is conservation and parkland in a nutshell,” said Ms. Booth, speaking after the meeting.
The Nature Conservancy of Canada purchased the large parcel of land last summer. It was previously owned by Fairmont Hot Springs Resort.
Article written by reporter Steve Hubrecht