Peerless resident forced from his home
by Phil Ambroziak
Curtis Hofer is on the move, but he wishes he didn’t have to be.
The lifelong Peerless resident is disappointed in the provincial Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure’s plans to improve a major transportation route in the area. Hofer’s home, which he has occupied for close to seven years, is located directly in the path of the government’s plans to build a turning lane to connect Highway 26 with a new stretch of Highway 55 West.
“Originally, Highway 55 went straight across to Highway 26,” Hofer explained. “Now, they’re looking at jogging it for half-a-mile and putting in two stop signs (on Highway 26), which means I’m right in their visual triangle and my house has to move.”
Hofer, who initially heard rumblings two years ago something like this could happen, said the government has since expropriated his property because an offer to relocate the structure could not be agreed upon by both sides.
“They offered to move the house, but they left the contract very wide open,” he said. “They never said what they would do with the natural gas or the well and such. Also, the contract they wanted me to sign said they would not be responsible for any damage caused as a result of the move.
When I asked them to provide more clarity, they withdrew their offer.”
While no longer the official owner of the home, Hofer did sign what he described as a sort of rental agreement. This, he said, guarantees the government cannot force him to move until next May at the earliest.
“It’s just me living here, and it was a nice, affordable house when I bought it,” he continued. “There’s nothing fancy about it and it’s by no means a palace, but it was still my house.”
The ministry did pay Hofer $47,500 for the structure, which includes a “disruption fee,” but he still doesn’t know where he will end up once it comes time to move on.
“I grew up a mile from here,” he said. “It is quite affordable to live in Peerless, but there’s nothing for sale here now that I could get for $50,000. If
I were to move to Goodsoil, it would probably cost around $100,000 for a house.”
The purpose for the highway reconstruction is to upgrade the roadway to better accommodate truck travel. According to Doug Wakabayashi, director of communications with the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure, the project has been split into two phases – reconstruction from the Alberta border to Pierceland and then onto Peerless.
“I can’t speak on individual negotiations, but when a highway is rebuilt we do, from time-to-time, require additional land,” Wakabayashi said. “On one hand, we have an obligation to treat the landowners fairly, but we also have an obligation to taxpayers to ensure we don’t overpay for land.”
Wakabayashi went on to describe Highway 55 – once the ongoing work is completed – as being a much safer highway because of proper grading, wider lanes and, if necessary, the elimination of blind spots.
“It’s going to be the main transport highway from Edmonton to Prince Albert,” he said.
As for Hofer, he isn’t as upset with the highway improvements as much as he is with the government’s decision to withdraw its offer to relocate his house.
“I honestly thought they’d be a little more fair,” he said. “Why am I being forced into this? I could have moved it myself, but I would have had to do all the work and it wouldn’t have been affordable to do so in the long run.”
He also said he doesn’t approve of the power the government has to bully people.
“It wouldn’t be so bad if all they wanted to do was take a few trees out of my front yard,” he said.