No land purchases for Cornwall bypass until eve of construction, minister says

The P.E.I. government says it won’t follow through on the purchase of land needed to create a new Cornwall bypass until the construction project has final approval.

New appropriation policy dictates project approval must come before cash flows to landowners

Construction began on two roundabouts in 2016. (Brandon Holmes/Twitter)

The P.E.I. government says it won't follow through on the purchase of land needed to create a new Cornwall bypass until the construction project has final approval.

Government has issued a tender for an independent consultant to conduct an environmental impact assessment on phase 2 of the $65 million project.

That assessment is expected to be completed in June. Pending environmental approval of the project from the provincial and federal governments, and funding approval from Ottawa, the province is hoping to begin construction in July.

That leaves a narrower window of time for a group of 20 affected landowners to sell their properties to government before work begins.

'We're just being very responsible'

Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy Minister Paula Biggar says by waiting for final approval before purchasing land, government is following a new appropriations policy recently approved by cabinet.

Transportation Minister Paula Biggar says the government is following a new appropriations policy. (Rick Gibbs/CBC)

"We're just being very responsible in what we're doing and taking the necessary steps here as we go forward to make sure we follow the process," Biggar said.

Biggar said no official appropriations policy for these types of transactions existed before. In fact, the province still owns most of the land purchased for an alternative route for the Cornwall bypass — a project that never went ahead.

Timeline 'extremely problematic:' landowner

One landowner calls government's timeline "extremely problematic" in terms of preparing to move to a new location.

Ellen Jones operates an equestrian centre at her 30-hectare farm on the current bypass route. She's been trying to make plans to develop a new property to be able to move to during the summer.

"For us the concern has always been about the organization of, and our potential to, rebuild," she said. Jones said landowners were previously told construction would begin in May, and that land purchases would be finalized before then.

Ellen Jones, seen here in a photo taken in October, operates an equestrian centre in the path of the planned route, and has been trying to make plans to relocate. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

"If what the government is saying is true about the June payment date it pushes back our chance at finding and purchasing new land and reduces our chances of being in a position to rebuild with minimal client impact."

Negotiations underway

Biggar said a provincial assessor has been reviewing the properties in question, and that final purchases will proceed quickly when the time comes — assuming selling prices have been agreed upon.

"That particular end of it, once we get moving on everything, will not take a lot of turnaround," she explained. "It's the process that takes the time to discuss and evaluate and assess and come to an agreement. That's what we're in the process of now."

Landowners who don't agree with the province's value assessment of their property can hire a third-party assessor to provide another valuation, although Biggar said "that holds up the process further."

She said she's not concerned that holdouts might delay the start of construction.

"There may be people that don't agree, but in the end, between what we offer and what they offer, there is an Expropriations Act in place," she said. "We have some flexibility in there to add on a certain percentage over-and-above what we expect and try to find a common ground, but in the end we do have the authority as well to expropriate."

About the Author

Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature.