Green groups rip Alta. “land assembly” plan

Three major environmental groups say the Alberta government’s planned new process for putting together land for roads or utility corridors essentially gives the province “unfettered powers to take land.”

The Council of Canadians, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club say the province’s Land Assembly Project Area Act, which was introduced in the legislature March 2 after the government announced it last month, is “designed to strip landowners and concerned citizens of what little rights they have.”

“Essentially what this act does is create ‘rights-free zones’ where the province has unprecedented power to expropriate land and landowners or citizens have even fewer avenues through which to speak out,” said Edmonton-based activist Mike Hudema, a Greenpeace campaigner, in a release last week.

Bill 19, the groups said, is “broadly worded to include any major infrastructure projects including pipelines, gas wells and nuclear reactors at the minister of industry’s sole discretion.”

The proposed legislation, “as currently written, allows the government to take over control of your land for an indefinite period of time,” said Jeh Custer, another Edmonton-based activist on behalf of the Sierra Club of Canada.

“The bill says the government will register a ‘control order’ against your land title and that’s the end of the story. It’s simply Orwellian… Everything the government needs already exists under current legislation. All this bill does is strip rights and concentrate power with a single minister.”

The three groups’ opposition comes a week after Wild Rose Agricultural Producers, the province’s general farm organization, also urged the province not to proceed with the bill.

“Fines and imprisonment”

“Compensation for land use, restrictions on what land owners can do on

their own property, and the fines and imprisonment a landowner can face for violating regulations are just some of the concerns we have regarding Bill 19,” WRAP president Humphrey Banack said in a separate release March 10.

The bill, WRAP said, “does not place a time limit for goverment easements to stay on a land title” and also does not provide a “test or standard that the government would have to pass in order to show the land is necessary for building a project.”

Essentially, the group said, the bill “allows the government to purchase land, but does not present any guarantee that land will be purchased… leaving the landowner with property that could have restrictions on building, constructing, and expanding.”

“If someone were to purchase that property, they too would be subject to the same restrictions as the previous owner,” said Banack, who farms at Camrose.

Provincial Infrastructure Minister Jack Hayden, introducing the bill earlier this month, said it “will facilitate similar types of projects that often require years of preparation, while ensuring affected Albertans are treated fairly and have the opportunity to provide input.”

Hayden, who’s a former reeve for the county of Stettler and lives on a farm at Endiang, about 50 km north of Hanna, said at the time that the “success of the Transportation and Utility Corridor program, which includes the Edmonton and Calgary ring roads, is due in large part to government’s foresight 35 years ago to start identifying and setting aside land for these important projects.”

The act puts the onus on the province to notify and consult with affected landowners before a proposed project area can be considered for approval. As part of the process, a project plan would have to be prepared and publicized in advance, the province said.

As well, landowners in a designated project area would be “fairly compensated” for the acquisition of their lands at fair market value rates.

The act “recognizes the need for government to proactively assemble land for major infrastructure projects, while helping ensure that government uses its authority responsibly by taking the interests of Albertans into account before making a final decision to undertake a project,” Hayden said at the time.

But the three green groups contended last Thursday that the bill as it now stands “removes the existing rights of landowners and the public to question the development of major infrastructure by criminalizing any objections with a $100,000 fine and/or two years in jail.”

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