Mayor Gary St. Onge has gone public with his concerns about the pace of work on the truck bypass around Estevan.
St. Onge raised the matter during the inquiries portion of the Aug. 7 meeting of city council. At issue is the ongoing dispute between landowners in the RM of Estevan and the provincial Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure with respect to the purchase of land for the bypass.
The mayor said the City recently met with an official from the ministry who informed them that the two sides are at an impasse as the landowners are not happy with the money being offered by the province. St. Onge said they also learned the affected landowners have formed an association.
The dispute has led to concerns about a delay or possible scuttling of the project, which has been plagued by a series of holdups and controversies. St. Onge said the project is of major importance to the City as they are looking forward to getting many of the heavy trucks out of Estevan and he feels the landowners in the RM don’t share their desire to get the bypass completed.
“I hope it’s not a case of people just trying to get rich,” St. Onge said during the council meeting.
While speaking to The Mercury after the meeting, he elaborated on his comments, saying that the landowners should not be expecting to receive commercial prices for agriculture land.
“I don’t think you can be asking for those types of numbers,” he said. “Certainly it may be worth that once the truck route goes through, but until it goes through, it’s not worth that. How can you sell something on the basis of what it’s going to be worth down the road. If we all did that here, we’d never get anything done.
“We don’t have a lot of time. I just think the citizens need to know what is going on.”
St. Onge said what concerns him is that there is a time limit on the $15 to $16 million in support from the federal government for the project, which now has a $44 million price tag. Although he didn’t elaborate on when the federal money might be pulled, St. Onge said the province should consider expropriating the land to ensure things move forward.
“I would hope the government would do what they have done in the past; just expropriate the land, give what is considered fair and I would hope that the courts would judge that it’s fair, not what it’s going to be down the road.”
As for the landowners along the truck bypass path, they are currently waiting for a second valuation to be conducted by the province after rejecting the first.
Del Block, who owns land in the area and is a spokesman for the association, said the first offer was not in line with what property is selling for close to the city.
“(The province) believes they are offering a fair price and the landowners disagree,” said Block who noted that some of the property owners have been in contact with a lawyer.
He added the association is an informal group that was created to keep all of the parties involved in touch with one another as there have been a number of different stories making the rounds.
“We are kind of in limbo right now waiting for this new valuation. The first round wasn’t successful.”
Although he acknowledged that expropriation looms as a possibility, Block said he is hopeful they can work to an agreement and that would be seen as a last resort. He also noted that only two people have agreed to a deal with the province and both of those people owned land that is zoned for commercial purposes, not agricultural.