Heartland homeowers say: what about us?

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Want $60 million buyout to move out

A group of homeowners still stuck in the Alberta Industrial Heartland want county council to buy them out with about $60 million from the Sturgeon Refinery.

Marty Derouin and landowners Ron and Rob Shaw spoke to county council last week on the plight of homeowners who still live in the Heartland region.

The Heartland is a 582 square kilometre industrial park, much of which is in Sturgeon County. In 2005, industry leaders plus Sturgeon and Strathcona County created the Alberta Industrial Heartland Land Trust Society to buy out residents who wanted out of this region but couldn’t find buyers as they became hemmed in by industry. The trust dissolved in 2015, having bought out about 36 families.

Although most of the residents in the Heartland have moved on, 18 people still live there, Ron Shaw said.

These residents have regular safety concerns about the region’s traffic, air quality and light pollution, yet aren’t able to find buyers for their land so they can leave, Rob Shaw said.

“Industry doesn’t want us as a neighbor and we don’t want them as a neighbor,” he said.

“We want to move on with our lives.”

Derouin and the Shaws called on the county to buy out these 18 residents using tax dollars gained from the Sturgeon Refinery. This would cost $50 to $60 million and could be paid out over four years, and would give the county a land bank it could use to attract more industry.

Many of these landowners are seniors who have all their wealth tied up in their property, Ron said.

“You’re making money on our backs because we are the people who are still living there,” he said, passionately.

“That’s not fair. You wouldn’t do that to your sons, your daughters, your friends.”

Coun. Karen Shaw, who lives in the Heartland region, said she had been calling for a buyout program for years, but the most her fellow councilors have been wiling to support was a promise to put three per cent of the Sturgeon Refinery’s tax revenue towards quality of life issues in the region.

“I would love to be able to wave that wand and do that (buyout) but I’m one of seven votes.”

The county had also brought in more traffic signals, dust control and policing to help residents there.

Provincial law states that municipalities can only buy land for municipal purposes and only at market value, Shaw said in an interview. Right now, those values were so low she wouldn’t even sell her own land for that price.

“I feel very badly for some of the older people in there because that’s their retirement (fund),” she said, and they’ve had a tough time finding industry buyers due to the downturn.

In council, Shaw said county residents and provincial law were unlikely to support a buyout, and that landowners were unlikely to accept the price they would get from one. The county was also set to receive a fraction of the tax dollars it expected from the Sturgeon Refinery next year due to construction delays.

Shaw encouraged landowners to work with the economic development branch to find buyers, and said the county should offer incentives to draw more industry to this region.

Mayor Tom Flynn said that council would meet with landowners to discuss this issue.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.