Crowd fills Ritchot council chambers over livestock expansion proposal

Ritchot’s council chambers were filled to capacity, with overflow into the foyer, at their public meeting held on April 17. The majority of the approximately 60 attendees were there to speak either in favour or objection to the conditional use and variation applications made by Pierre-Andre and Veronique Mivelaz of 1659 Sood Road near St. Adolphe.

The family sought to expand their existing dairy operation from 400 to 900 cows, and accommodating the extra livestock will require an expansion of the farm’s existing manure management system.

A variance request was likewise made to reduce the RM’s required distance between the farm’s manure facility and barns with the nearest rural and urban residents.

Inonge Aliaga, on behalf of the provincial government’s Municipal and Northern Relations, addressed council in person. She is the senior planner with the Livestock Technical Review Co-ordination Unit.

Aliaga’s team had already provided council with a complete provincial review of the applicants’ proposal, which considered the many safeguards and requirements which a livestock operator needs to adhere to.

At this stage, she said, the matter was in the hands of the RM.

“The variation orders are only required because the bylaw requires larger operations to be further away [from residences],” Aliaga told council. “Separation, size, and location meet all the requirements of the development plan and the development bylaw for the expansion of the existing operation.”

All areas of concern, she said, such as the spreading of manure in areas that are regularly inundated with flood waters have been taken into consideration.

The review also included comments submitted by 31 stakeholders from the St. Adolphe area.

“Common concerns were with odour, the effects of the use of Sood Road, decreasing property values, [the safety of] local water systems, and composting mortality,” said Aliaga.

Also within the review were comments from the applicants, indicating their intent to mitigate local concerns by creating a shelterbelt around the manure storage facility. As well, the spreading of manure on local fields in spring would be virtually eliminated.

“If the proposal has reached this stage of the process, it means that the province has no outstanding technical concerns with it,” Aliaga said. “Based on available information, it has been determined that the proposed operation will not create a risk to health, safety, or the environment, or that any risk can’t be minimized through the use of appropriate practices, measures, and safeguards.”

If council were to deny the application, she added, they would be required to provide written reasons for their rejection and the applicant would have the right to an appeal at the municipal board level.

Jordan Karpinchick, who has worked for the Mivelaz family as a consultant for the past 12 years, also addressed council. The site of the Mivelaz farm, he said, has been in use as a livestock operation since the 1940s.

“The dairy industry holds a vital place in southeast Manitoba’s heritage, providing not only nourishment but also livelihoods for families across multiple generations,” Karpinchick said. “The input from the technical review process was invaluable in guiding our decision-making process and ensuring that any development aligns with the RM’s mission for sustainable growth.”

Eight others individually approached council, also speaking in favour of the farm expansion. They included neighbours and an agronomist for Terraco.

Clint Masse from A Maze in Corn was among those standing in support.

“There’s no farm that’s shrinking,” Masse said. “If we’re not growing, we’re stagnant. And if we’re stagnant, we’re not thriving. In modern agricultural, we have to embrace economies of scale.”

An additional 22 letters were received by council in support of the application. Reasons for support included local employment opportunities provided by farm operations and the clean and respectable nature in which the Mivelaz family have operated their business to date.

Seven people objected to the application. Most were not against the farm expansion, per se. Rather, they shared frustrations in regard to the destruction of the local roads by the farm’s heavy equipment.

Another concern was the high speeds used by equipment drivers along that road, creating safety issues.

Two St. Adolphe residents confronted the question of air quality. Both said they had moved to this small town to get away from noxious city odours.

Among them was Robert Doiron, who worries about the potentially toxic fumes from methane gasses created by an increase in cows at the site.

“The average cow produces 64 pounds of faeces per day, which turns out to be 23,360 pounds a year,” Doiron told council. “When there’s 900 cows, that’ll be 8,526,400 pounds of cow faeces produced. [With that] methane gas pumped into the air approximately one mile from town, I don’t know how you can sit there and say, ‘That’s okay.’”

Mayor Chris Ewen closed the hearing to public feedback after the first hour. Council then spent time in deliberations of their own.

Councillor Shane Pelletier verified with Karpinchick that the Mivelak farm already housed around 800 cows in the two barns on site.

When Councillor Jason Bodnarchuk asked whether the RM had received any complaints regarding farm odours, CAO Mitch Duval stated that there had been none, to his knowledge.

As for concerns over the use of Sood Road, council concluded that there were things the RM could do to mitigate this, including increasing dust control measures and performing traffic counts.

Council also noted that they could request that the province employ brake retarders and place speed limit signs in the area.

Asking the farm owner to speak to his drivers about speeding and brake use, Councillor Janine Boulanger added, could go a long way to improving safety in the area.

In the end, all five council members voted in favour of both the conditional use and variation requests.

Brenda Sawatzky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Niverville Citizen