A longstanding family in Wheatland County are expressing concerns regarding the development of De Havilland’s aircraft campus on neighbouring land, and the impact it will have both for them and their neighbours.

Robbie Heckle and his siblings will be the fifth generation within their family to take over their farm, which has been in the Wheatland County area for more than a century. 

As spring begins and calving season kicks into high gear, he said the next few months will be all hands on deck for the animals. Some of the concerns from the family are around the potential impact the aircraft campus will have on their cows. 

“We have 180 head of cow calf … calving season can take two to three months, roughly, of having babies. On the land directly across the road, they will have (their campus),” said Heckle. “The biggest impact I could see is that it would be very disturbing to the cattle. Of course, it is something they maybe can get used to, but they are delivering babies and I do not know how they would ever get used to that.”

In addition to the potential disturbance to their livestock, Heckle added the campus will occupy what is currently a large swath of crop land. 

“We can see both sides, how it can be a positive thing and whatnot, but we just want people to see that it is a good thing until it is in your backyard,” said Heckle. “It is taking away over 1,000 acres of farmland but it is not only taken away from us, it is taking away from the world and Wheatland’s production of food grain.”

De Havilland of Canada is planning to begin construction of a 1,500 acre aircraft campus, which will see the assembly and repair for DHC-515 Firefighter, DHC Twin Otter, and Dash 8-400 aircraft, among serving a host of other purposes for the company. 

The concept plan, unveiled in summer 2022, also includes facilities for ground tests, fueling, education, and an aircraft museum.

Heckle estimated on the land the De Havilland campus will occupy, roughly 100,000 bushels of grain could be produced annually. This would be roughly equivalent to 9 million loaves of bread. 

Communication with De Havilland, he added, has been passive at best. Much of what Heckle said he knew about the project has come from the De Havilland employee who comes to collect a rent cheque twice annually. 

“Since the day they purchased the land, we have had someone from the company come out and speak to us … and that is about twice a year. We see him very seldomly and he will tell us some information and what he knows but it is not much,” said Heckle. “We also went to an open house in November and they had lots of people there for information, but if you asked a very direct question, they gave more of a deflect answer.”

De Havilland has issued in a statement they are committed to minimizing the impact from construction and operation of their facilities on their future neighbours by implementing noise and light reducing techniques such as planting large trees on the property. 

The aircraft manufacturer is currently working with Wheatland County to rezone the site and aims to see construction starting in 2024. The first buildings are expected to be operational by 2025, though the entire buildout could take years. 

Heckle said his ultimate preference would be for De Havilland to find a better home for the project which would be less of a disturbance to agricultural land. 

“I think ultimately, I would like it moved to a better location. I do understand they would like it near highways and near Calgary, but it is just the fact that it will be taking away such valuable land, not just from us, but from Wheatland County.”

“It is like they are taking the ‘wheat’ out of Wheatland County. They said it is in their mission to keep farmland viable in this community, and that is kind of the opposite of what they are doing.”

By John Watson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 20, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Strathmore Times   Strathmore, Alberta
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