THE GRAND OPENING OF THE REGINA BYPASS AN OPEN LETTER TO THE PREMIER FROM CONCERNED SASKATCHEWAN TAXPAYERS
During the last few years our organizations, ìThe Regina Committee for an alternative Bypass Solution/Why Tower Road?î and ìHighway Robbery, the Regina Bypass Scandalî have focused on many anomalies and inconsistencies surrounding the implementation and construction of the Trans Canada Highway No. 1 Regina Bypass. The impetus for this focus began when the city of Regina planners implemented last minute changes to existing plans that had been in place for several years. These were set aside in favor of a revised plan which many consider to be unsafe in key locations with diminishing radius roundabouts and confusing ídouble diamondí intersections which many fear will not be practical or safe during winter months.
This revised plan also fails to address one of the greatest needs for which the original plan was designed to provide, which was a northern access route outside the existing infrastructure on the east side of the city. With no northern access for westbound truck traffic, the much needed relief on existing infrastructure within the eastern end of the city remains unaddressed. The only apparent rationale for these revisions to the original plan rests with the developers of commercial properties adjacent to the re-routed bypass. It would appear that the interests of influential developers have effectively hijacked a public sector project and modified it to serve the financial interests of a few while ignoring and abandoning many practical needs. The end result has been an unsafe, dysfunctional and very expensive public works project. Compounding this problem are the many people whose lives were impacted Through the loss of their land, homes, businesses and in many cases whose health and futures were put in jeopardy.
During the course of our investigations, we were confronted with a good deal of conflicting information. The legislative record will show Mr. Don McMorris, the Minister of Highways stating that at first he did not agree with the re-location of the Bypass to Tower Road. He then went on to say that it was the city engineers who convinced him that ìnot once, not twice, but three timesî that the revised plan was the optimum solution. When we were able to discuss this subject with senior Highways officials, we received a completely contradictory opinion. They told us that they did not agree with the relocation to Tower Road and that the alternative Gravel Pit Road would have been the preferred location for a variety of reasons. They also speculated that it was the developers who had influenced these decisions.
This prompted us to investigate what had taken place in other locations which would be affected by these last-minute changes to the Bypass plan. We discovered a number of things which added to our concerns. Others like ourselves had been forced to accept arbitrary amounts for their properties with the condition of non-disclosure agreements attached to the offers. It remains difficult for us to understand why our own government would make such a request. These are taxpayer funded transactions that should be visible and transparent, not hidden from the general public. This appeared to be an abuse of authority that should (or possibly is) illegal. As our investigations continued, other facts emerged which put an entirely different complexion on the motives behind these late changes to the Regina Bypass plans.
On the western end of the new bypass, large portions of land surrounding the revised location of the bypass had only been recently purchased by an individual who had a prior and existing business relationship with the Deputy Premier. In another instance, one civic employee became a principal partner in the purchase of land that became crucial for the completion of the new bypass after the radical late changes had been ratified. Further investigation revealed that the values paid for these properties at the time they were sold to the developers or investors bore no resemblance to the values they received when selling a portion of these properties back to the province in order to complete this project. In some cases the amounts received for a small portion of their newly acquired land exceeded the amount they had paid for the entire package. In other cases, privately held land had been bought up just before the government was about to annex these properties.
The new owners of the properties adjacent to the GTH were then able to convince the government that the values had escalated exponentially, resulting in an order in council signed by then Premier Brad Wall for in excess of $21 million dollars for land that could have been annexed by the city for under $400,000 had the city acted in a timely manner in light of their known future needs. Similar scenarios unfolded surrounding the eastern region of the project. When reviewing these details it becomes apparent that we have become victims of excessive profiteering at the expense of the taxpayers of Saskatchewan
It should be noted that relationships between speculators and elected officials existed prior to many of the land transactions in question. The investor who acquired key parcels later needed to complete the GTH portion was also know to personally rent land to Mr. Bill Boyd, the deputy premier at the time. The fact that both Mr. Boyd and Mr. Wall resigned mid-term following these transactions contributes to very poor optics. On the eastern side of the city a civic employee was found to be in partnership with investors who bought up significant tracts of land prior to the announcement of the relocated Bypass. Portions of this land were resold to the province at multiple times their original cost. These expenditures have no doubt contributed significantly to our provincial deficits at a time when our local economy is already stressed.
It should be noted that our 40 Kilometres of Bypass around Regina has now exceeded the cost IN TODAYîS $ of the 324 km four lane Coquihalla Highway in B.C. We have a $2.2 Billion dollar cost which must be digested by the taxpayers of this province. In light of the original project cost estimate of $400 million, not only have we suffered from a huge financial burden being imposed upon us, we still do not have a truly functional infrastructure.
It appears we have accommodated those developers with sufficient influence to have their interests served above that of the general public. In the process of accommodating them, a trail of destruction has been created. Here are only some of the many issues that remain unanswered;
- Failed effective and timely communication surrounding proposed alterations to the existing plans
- Existing land owners paid vastly different amounts for similar properties
- No process for establishing compensation for businesses whose operations would be severely af fected by the changed plans
- Abandonment of the badly needed northern extension of the Bypass
- Safety concerns remain with certain features that have yet to be proven viable with our seasonal road conditions.
While these and other points of concern have been brought forward in the past, no attempts have been made to redress them. It is true that the RCMP conducted an investigation claiming that 7500 man hours were invested in research only to find that there was insufficient evidence warranting any criminal charges pertaining to any of these land transactions. Sadly, their report has become a sanctuary for our legislators when called upon to review the history of this controversial project. They have used the lack of charges to suggest there is no ísmoking guní in any of these negotiations and have chosen to ignore the obvious implications that the facts point to.
We contend that access to privileged information not yet released to the general public has enabled well-connected individuals to benefit at the expense of the taxpayers of Saskatchewan. We concede that land transactions in and of themselves are not illegal. We also contend that a standard of ethical procedure needs to be put into place. In the financial world there are severe penalties for íinsider tradingí designed to curtail predatory behavior at the expense of others. Our criminal code guides the RCMP and any other law enforcement agency in the enforcement of the regulations and rules which are imbedded in it.
The same code does not and cannot address matters of íethical practiceí until they are defined by the law. Perhaps it is time we enacted legislation which addresses these practices and protects public funds from being mishandled and manipulated in this manner. We have been insisting on a Judicial Inquiry and a Forensic Audit be conducted into these transactions. We need to identify where laws can be put in place to prevent the recurrence of such blatant profiteering at our expense. To date, we are still awaiting a response.
Many are on the other end of this controversy having been victimized by the same authorities who have rewarded others. The entire process needs to be reviewed with the intent of reconciling these inconsistencies.
We will continue to pursue just treatment and a fair assessment of our grievances in any form available to us. We have already brought this matter to the attention of the general public and have a growing number of informed citizens who are now aware of the issues and share our concerns. We anticipate this group will continue to grow and develop an even greater voice. We hope to see a willingness on the part of our leadership to address this matter in the near future. Confidence in our legislative process and those who manage it is at stake.
We anxiously await your response.
Sincerely, The Informed and Concerned Taxpayers of Saskatchewan