Heartland landowners calling for Sturgeon County to buy them out

A group of 18 property owners living in the Alberta Industrial Heartland, north of Edmonton, is asking that Sturgeon County buy them out.

'They're asking for something only industry can give them' says county councillor

The first phase of the Sturgeon Refinery, in the Industrial Heartland, is expected to come on stream in late 2018. (The Canadian Press)

A group of property owners living in the Alberta Industrial Heartland region northeast of Edmonton are asking that Sturgeon County buy them out.

With the Sturgeon Refinery slated to come online at the end of 2018, the county will see a 40-per-cent increase in the revenue it collects through taxes, landowner Marty Derouin said Friday.

Derouin suggested it would cost $50 million to $60 million for the county to buy out the 18 families in the group.

The Industrial Heartland region is a 582-square-kilometre industrial park of processing plants that make fuels, fertilizers, petrochemicals and other products. It's the largest hydrocarbon processing region in Canada.

The area covers parts of five municipalities — Sturgeon, Strathcona and Lamont counties, and the cities of Fort Saskatchewan and Edmonton.

When the region was established nearly 20 years ago, the zoning on rural properties was changed from agriculture to industrial.

For landowners, that means they cannot build additional homes on their property.

"We're the county's land bank," said Derouin.
'They're asking for something that only industry can give them,'says county councillor Karen Shaw. (CBC)

Over the years, 36 property owners in close proximity to the centre of the Industrial Heartland region have been bought out at agricultural land prices, said county councillor Karen Shaw, who has a farm in the region herself. 

"We can sell it as a farm," Shaw said of her property. "If we want industrial prices for our property, we have to sit and be prepared to wait for industry to come to us."

To expect the county to pay landowners industry prices is an unrealistic expectation, Shaw said.

"If I had a magic wand and could just wave it and say, 'You guys all be gone' ... but the fact is they're asking for something that only industry can give them."

County will work with residents, mayor says

The economic downturn has meant lower oil prices, and the property in the Heartland region is not drawing the same value it was before, said Tom Flynn, mayor of Sturgeon County.

"They've got issues on two fronts — the quality of life because there's a lot more traffic around them, and any one of us if there's an opportunity to sell something at very high dollars we want to be able to have the opportunity to do that," Flynn said.

The county is willing to work with landowners but research has to be done to find out what the county can legally do, he said. The Municipal Government Act states that municipalities can only buy land for municipal purposes and only at market value.

"We've got to sit down and figure out how we can work with them and get to a place that works for the whole county, and for those residents," Flynn said.

A task force, spearheaded by the county, will be set up to work with residents, he said.