By: Chelsea Kemp
Posted: 09/26/2018 3:00 AM
STRATHCLAIR — An agricultural watchdog group is calling for the Rural Municipality of Yellowhead’s elected officials to take action on what they allege is a hog farmer’s illegal expansion.
These concerns surround an existing hog barn in the municipality owned by farmer Wim Verbruggen, who Hog Watch alleges to have undertaken an operational expansion in violation of current laws and regulations.
Verbruggen, meanwhile, maintains that he did nothing wrong.
Hog Watch was alerted to the construction of a barn on Verbruggen’s farm by members of the community and brought their finding before the Yellowhead Municipal Council on Tuesday morning.
“This operation should be shut down because that sends a message to other potential hog operators and livestock operators that if you don’t follow the rules… you’re not going to be rewarded with being able to continue to operate,” Hog Watch member Ruth Pryzner said at the Yellowhead RM satellite office in Strathclair, outside of the morning’s meeting.
In addition to their allegations against Verbruggen, Hog Watch is alleging that the municipality failed to account for the expansion because they took the information provided by Verbruggen at face value based on an honour system, Pryzner said.
Concerns about the expansion include the municipality’s alleged failure to hold a conditional use hearing, insufficient manure capacity, the lack of a technical review committee review and the effect on water quality and capacity.
“I’m a little disappointed,” Pryzner said. “Because there are so many violations by this operator and we believe that he knew, or ought to have known what the rules are. He should not be rewarded with the province attempting to enforce compliance with the rules after the fact.”
There are also concerns that the investigation and follow-up could be delayed, given that a new council will be elected at the end of October, Pryzner said.
Yellowhead Reeve Don Yanick admitted on Tuesday that the municipality made a mistake with respect to Verbruggen’s conditional use permit for a hog barn’s construction, adding that they would follow up with the hog farmer to investigate the points raised by Hog Watch.
“For some reason it got omitted,” Yanick said. “Probably because it got sent off our desk to the office of the high commissioner, so we thought everything was looked after.”
The reeve said that he hoped to see the matter settled before a new council is elected, summarizing the issue as: “Basically, we missed the conditional use that we should have had.”
Meanwhile, Verbruggen said that he remains perplexed by this whole process and was not made aware of Tuesday’s presentation to council until The Brandon Sun phoned him about it on Monday.
He did not attend Tuesday’s meeting and was not available by phone by press time after the meeting. Verbruggen has never come before council in the past and Yanick said he has never met with him.
Verbruggen said that he questions the motives of Hog Watch, and particularly those of Pryzner.
“She’s anti-everything,” Verbruggen said by phone on Monday. “I dunno what the hell is going on because we’re doing nothing.”
Hog Watch is asking for council to complain to the ministers of sustainable development and municipal relations as well as clarify the size of the barn for enforcement purposes.
Randy Woywada lives less than a mile from the barn in question. He said that he saw the construction of the barn and assumed Verbruggen had requested the required permits and followed the bylaws set in place.
“It’s directly affecting my farm and my family,” Woywada said. “It’s not my job to regulate this, but somebody needs to.”
Living close to the barn, Woywada said that he was concerned about the effect the alleged hog capacity increase might have on his family’s quality of life as it relates to water quality.
The government needs to strike a balance between allowing for expansion of hog barns, while protecting residents from any wrongdoing, he said.
Verbruggen was unaware his farm was being researched and said that he had never met Pryzner. He said that Pryzner made his life difficult during a hog barn expansion application process approximately two years ago.
Verbruggen is based near Rivers and applied to build a hog barn in the RM of Oakview in 2017 — a building that was rejected following a public hearing.
Verbruggen said on Monday that he was blindsided by this whole situation.
“Just lies, and lies and lies,” he said. “I don’t know what she’s (Pryzner) trying to do now. I know nothing about this.”
On Tuesday, council decided that the information supplied by Hog Watch will be used and verified by council as part of an investigation of Verbruggen. It also decided that the municipality needs to confirm the size of Verbruggen’s hog operations before sharing any final decisions.
Council stated it will respond to Hog Watch after the investigation is completed.
Photo by Marek Novotný