It was supposed to open last summer, but the owner of Harmony Beef says it will be a while yet before his plant starts slaughtering cattle.
“Quite honestly, when we started, we were overaggressive in our time frame,” said Rich Vesta, an American businessman and former top executive in the U.S. meat-packing industry.
Vesta completed the purchase of the former Rancher’s Beef Plant in Balzac in late 2013, calling the facility world class, but also in need of upgrades to put it on the leading edge of slaughter plants. The new startup date is Sept. 14, he said.
“We want to operate as soon as we can, but we want to make sure everything is correct before we operate the plant,” said Vesta. “Our original goal that we set when we bought the plant was totally unrealistic. We could not have complied with our own time frame, regardless of the city or county.”
A development permit for the plant’s planned waste water treatment facility has been an issue, even though the proposed system will reduce water consumption by 90 per cent and will recycle and purify water used at the site.
“We’re just waiting to get all our ducks in a row so we can apply for a development permit to put the equipment in a building that is about 64,000 square feet,” he said.
In November, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, wrote to the Rocky View County’s reeve, expressing concern over the waste water treatment plant and the slaughterhouse. Nenshi wrote that Northeast Calgary and east Balzac have radically changed since the slaughterhouse was approved and built in 2004 (it closed in 2007 after just 14 months in operation). In his letter, Nenshi said there has been no independent analysis on how the operations of the slaughterhouse and the treatment plant will impact air quality and the environment.
“We certainly are sensitive to their questions and we think we’ve tried to answer most of those,” said Vesta. “We’ve invited the mayor to come and visit us. We’ve had some of the other people from Calgary, but not him. I think it really stems from a lack of understanding about our project and how we conduct our business. Whenever we’ve had a chance to explain things to people and walk them through our plant and our technology, we are usually met with agreement.”
Neither Nenshi or Rocky View Reeve Margaret Bahcheli responded to repeated interview requests from Alberta Farmer.
Vesta said he expects to get a permit for the waste water treatment plant soon and begin construction of the building that will house it. The slaughter plant itself already has the permits it needs, he said.
He also said residents of nearby communities shouldn’t be concerned.
“We’re always anxious to tell our story and to show people what our project is about,” said Vesta. “We take our involvement in any community seriously. We never want to have a degrading effect on any community that we operate in. We never have and we never will.”