Over the past couple of months I’ve been asked several times what is happening to the Ag Society’s land deal south of town. Each time I try to explain what seems not to be happening and the discussion gets longer. Perhaps I can try to shed some light on the picture at this time.
Many of you know of, and perhaps attended the information meeting we had on Jan. 11, 2008 at the Agriplex. A good discussion was had and as we were required by our bylaws, we voted on the purchase of new property and the sale of our existing property. The number in favour was 68 while those against were 17.
We were then required to make a presentation to the Ponoka County council to request that the property we wished to buy be rezoned from Agriculture to Institutional Public Use.
The County, in its wisdom, chose to turn our application down. In the meantime we received a letter with 17 signatures on it from residents on Simpson Road declaring their opposition to our purchase. Their main objection, from what we can gather, was the fear of excessive traffic, noise and dust. The Ag. Society executive met with some of these people and explained that we would do all we could to help alleviate their concerns, including watering the road at times of excessive use.
We feel however, that because it is a public road, no one should be able to control the traffic that may care to use it. Another question that was repeatedly asked was why we wanted to move.
Anyone who may have attended the recent high school rodeo with 500 entries, or the more recent FCA rodeo should surely see the answer to that question. With the big rigs that do the hauling now, there is absolutely no room for parking for either contestants or the public.
Another issue is the fact that if we are to continue with wagon races, we have to depend on neighbour’s property to park their rigs and that may not always be available to us. Consequently, if that option is removed we would have to give up wagons and chariot racing, which is a large part of the rodeo picture.
We were led to believe by Ponoka County council that if we were to make a more professional presentation that they would take another look at our proposal. As most of you readers know, the Ag Society board are all volunteers and some of us have already spent considerable time and expense in putting together what information we already had.
We had a meeting with provincial representatives to discuss the grants available – Brad Wiese donated his machine to do five test holes. We met and discussed the situation with MLA Ray Prins. A delegation met with the County a second time with some projected figures and we hired Olsen Surveys to draw up a racetrack etc, as we envisioned it.
Mr. Olsen felt it was such a worthwhile project that the community could benefit from, that he graciously donated his work.
We also had part of our existing property appraised and have at least two serious buyers for three parcels, which would help put money together if we could go ahead and purchase land.
The councilors of Ponoka County have been visited on this issue several times both in person and by phone, and be several different Ag Society board members. Their concerns seem to be that we are not responsible enough and the taxpayer maybe on the hook if we fail financially.
Nothing could be further from the truth!
The County has already stated that they would assist us little even though they have put money and equipment to work for both the Ponoka Stampede Association and the car-racing track north of Rimbey.
If they have no money in our project, they should have no concern about our financial status at all. Their only concern should be to decide and act on what is the best for the community.
It was suggested to me that I should meet the County at a meeting on May 13 to request the usual six-month waiting period be waived so that we may be able to make a presentation with more information in June. This was denied.
It’s fairly clear from our perspective that the councilors on the east side are only interested in what takes place in their divisions and their story is that we have to get the local councilors on our side. One councilor told me that if they would vote for it, that he would also as he figured the land we were looking at was an ideal location.
The County, by delaying our next presentation to September (if we made one), have boxed us in. Most Ag. Society board members are farmers or ranchers and will find themselves harvesting or gathering and shipping cattle then, so time becomes an issue.
More importantly, the closing date on our offer to purchase is the end of September, so of course, if rezoning was approved it leaves us with little time to put the business together.
We would have to sell property, borrow money and pay for the land. The vendor has tried to work with us in this trying situation with the County and has moved the closing date twice already. He may agree to it again but it seems unfair to ask him to continue to do so.
It is truly unfortunate that County council, through misunderstanding or lack of experience and judgment, has put us in this awkward situation. Their action will certainly have a bearing on the future of agricultural and rodeo activities in this community for many years to come. There may never be as good an opportunity nor the will to move, as there is right now.
I might say at this time that town and community support has been great and we thank you all for that. We have nearly 300 signatures from concerned citizens and letters of support from the Rodeo and Exhibition boards, the Lions Club, Last West community, the Horticultural Society, 4-H clubs and, of course, the Town council.
We appreciate your efforts.
Carl E. Wilson
Ag Society President