Alberta MPs hear landowner concerns over property rights

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The standing committee is traveling to southern Alberta this week to receive comments on Bill 206 – and complaints about wind turbines and other utility infrastructure

A final round of hearings is taking place in southern Alberta this week as a 12-member standing committee of the legislature prepares to write a report on Bill 206, the Property Rights Statues Amendment Act, 2020 .

“The committee was set up to talk to landowners and listen to them,” said RJ Sigurdson, chairman of the select select committee on land rights and United Conservative Party MP for Highwood. “It is prudent that the government can take a look and ensure that appropriate methods, standards of approval, are put in place. Once you have this structure, it also provides security to both landowners and investors in the process. »

The committee was created by the provincial government in March 2021 to investigate ways to strengthen property rights for landowners, an initiative that was part of the UCP’s election platform in 2019. It is mandated to receive comment and review the Alberta Bill of Rights; Alberta Land Stewardship Act; Expropriation Act; Land Titles Act; Property Law Act; Limitation Act; and the Responsible Energy Development Act.

“One of the great things about this committee is being able to look at complex areas … and see if there are gaps in the system or processes that could cause conflict,” Sigurdson said. “We all know that disputes usually mean delays, and that never benefits landowners, nor does it benefit investors.”

Written submissions were received from government ministries and other stakeholders last year. The ongoing hearings will be followed by the submission of the committee’s final report by June 15.

Public engagement sessions were held in Edson and St. Paul in early April, and this week meetings will be held in Medicine Hat, Fort Macleod, Hanna and Eckville.

During a two-hour session in St. Paul on April 1, speakers raised a number of concerns relating specifically to their rights as landowners and their experiences of large-scale industrial development involving their lands and those of neighboring properties.

Local landowner Kyle Reszel raised the issue of a wind power generation project that has been proposed for the Elk Point area. He said the lack of information, both municipal and provincial, available to landowners in the area potentially affected by the project is concerning.

“If they go ahead with the project, but we refuse to authorize a turbine, will they have the right to cross our lands and put electricity to connect them without us having a notice there- above?” Reszel asked. “Nobody knows where to find the answer… I think it’s such a gray area that hasn’t happened here that nobody even has a clue where to start, but in the meantime five years have passed and they seem about to start stage 2.

“You have definitely revealed a gap and we are going to take that information and start taking a look at it and asking questions about why you ended up where you are today. How can we prevent this from happening again?” Sigurdson replied

St. Paul County Councilor Dale Hedrick said the municipality was as in the dark about the project as the ratepayers.

“All I found out about wind turbines is that farmers don’t really have a say,” Hedrick said, adding that the power lay with the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC). . “They push them through. It’s like about eight years ago there was a big power line north of St. Paul…They gave the landowners two options – either it goes here or it goes here…none of the owners wanted to. When it comes to these windmills, it’s the same thing.

Hedrick said farmers “need certain rights” when it comes to commercial power generation/transmission projects.

“The Public Utilities Commission, they trump everything the farmers say and that’s not right.”

He also expressed concern about reclamation once projects are decommissioned.

“Once these windmills are finished, the landowner is forced to dig up all that cement,” he said. “There must be something set in stone, written there about recovery. I don’t know if these companies have to put money aside for refurbishment so they can’t just say “Oh, we’re broke, sorry, we can’t do anything” and get walk away when they’re done with those Windmills.”

Farmer Diane Dargis shared her and her husband’s experience and frustration when transmission lines were pushed through their farmland, describing the process as “stinks of heaven”. She said they completely ignored the project while it was still under consideration, until it landed on their doorstep.

“The hearings were a gong show. It was already stamped before we even entered that he was going to pass. . . basically, it was a done deal before we even got to the hearings.

Dargis said they were seen as “farmers only and were uninformed” when it came to utilities and what was needed.

“We know our territory. We know everything about our territory. We don’t want power lines between two perfectly good lots, but there was no negotiation. Once they determined it was the road…we couldn’t say anything about it. I feel like our rights have been reduced to nothing at this point.

St. Paul County Councilor Kevin Wirsta and the Rural Municipalities Association representative for District 5 said a number of people in the county have land that has been in their families for more than 100 years.

“The more we learn, the more we can understand, but when you do things behind closed doors and things unfold and happen before you even have a chance to react, it’s unfair to any landowner in this country. . . When one of us speaks, you only hear one, but in reality you hear 360,000 people because we pretty much all support each other,” Wirsta said of farmers in the province.

He said more and more rural landowners are being “intimidated” and not being recognized for what they need to do in the province. Wirsta also addressed unpaid municipal industry taxes in rural Alberta.

“I believe this year so far we owe $243 million in taxes to Alberta residents in these municipalities. … As we move forward with $150 of oil coming this year, it has to stop.

Speaking on the issue of industrial property recovery, Wirsta observed that “we have learned nothing from our oil recovery and now we are starting in our windmills. We allow wind turbines to pass through this province and at the same time, the AUC does not recognize the rehabilitation.

Committee officials also heard from a landowner on the issue of adverse possession who described it as an “archaic rule” that needs to be removed from the books.

Sigurdson said the legislation is something that many jurisdictions in Canada have abandoned.

“It was really an eye opener for me, personally, and for other committee members who can’t believe this still exists in the province of Alberta,” he told Western Investor. “There’s pretty much unanimous support that as a government we should come up with legislation to get rid of it.”

Aboriginal land claims and treaty rights also figured in the discussions.

Speaking at the meeting in St. Paul, Sheila Redcrow of Saddle Lake remarked that it was appropriate for the committee to look at property rights and shared her perspective on how history has eroded the land rights of indigenous peoples.

“Right now we have almost nowhere to hunt because we can’t go to farmers’ land because it’s private property. You have the government selling off all the crown lands – the provincials that were supposed to be ours – so basically our people have nowhere to hunt without getting huge fines, having their guns confiscated, getting have their vehicles confiscated,” she said. mentioned.

“We have agreed to share the land with the newcomers to the depth of the plow, but that is not happening either,” she added. “That’s why I came here because really, it’s a big thing you’re going to do real estate rights and, what, we have our little reserve?”

Sigurdson expects to hear more from packed houses as the committee begins its final four public meetings in southern Alberta this week. The committee is traveling to Medicine Hat and Fort Macleod on April 12, Hanna on April 13, and Eckville on April 14.

“I imagine when we get to southern Alberta, Medicine Hat, I imagine the room will be pretty full,” he said.

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