© Guardian photo by Mitch MacDonald
Henry Atkinson, 7, of Charlottetown holds up a handmade sign at a protest outside Province House Thursday, in which the crowd was protesting "Plan B," the highway realignment project for Churchill."
The government is putting landowners along the Churchill highway re-alignment route on notice that it's time to accept their offers or be forced to sell.
Brian Thompson, a spokesman for the Transportation Department, said letters were going out this week to the eight or nine landowners who haven't accepted negotiated deals to buy their land for the project.
"Those letters will reference expropriation as an avenue government may need to follow to keep the project start date on target," he said.
The land purchases are part of the final steps before construction starts on the highway re-alignment that has come to be known as Plan B.
Government expects to pay about $4 million to buy the properties it needs for the development.
That money is on top of the $16 million the provincial and federal governments are splitting to build the new highway.
Of the properties the government is buying, 10 have houses on them and eight are occupied.
Only one of the houses is in the direct path of the re-alignment and because of the project's planned work schedule, the owner doesn't have to move right away.
Thompson said the government has been negotiating with landowners along the re-alignment since January.
"We've got to ensure that property acquisitions continue to take place in a timely manner to make sure the project's start date's not compromised," he said.
As of Thursday, the province was still in negotiations with eight or nine property owners, but it has reached the point where the government has to make sure it buys the properties soon, Thompson said.
"Before the end of the month is our target."
"We've got to ensure that property acquisitions continue to take place in a timely manner to make sure the project's start date's not compromised," Brian Thompson, a spokesman for the Transportation Department
The government also sent out one letter to a landowner who has refused to accept any offers.
It states the province will expropriate if he doesn't accept the final offer.
Thompson said negotiations can still happen during the expropriation process, but it ensures the project can move forward in a timely manner.
"Expropriation is something that we would certainly like to avoid, if we can," he said.
The government hired independent, private sector appraisers to assess the properties to ensure a fair price for the landowners and taxpayers, Thompson said.
Any deals will also include moving costs for people who live in the affected area, legal fees and money for mortgage penalties if they apply to anyone who is penalized for paying off their mortgage early.
Landowners who get the letter have about a week to respond before the government sends another and Thompson said the province may start the expropriation process as early as Aug. 22 for any properties for which they don't get agreements.
Leo Creamer, the department's provincial land manager, said the government has expropriated for projects before, but is usually able to negotiate land sales.
"Generally it's pretty rare," he said.
Before the project can proceed to the construction phase it has to pass an environmental assessment, the results of which the province will present at a public meeting Aug. 27.