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.