A West Kootenay property owner is seeking fair compensation for landowners across the province.
Pend d’Oreille resident Jim Urquhart is putting out the call to B.C. landowners who have electrical transmission line right-of-ways on their private property, to come together and discuss what the government and civil society have determined constitutes fair, owed land-use compensation.
“It is time the utilities in B.C. paid the same land-use compensation that the other energy producers in B.C. and Alberta that place above ground structures on private property consider fair,” said Urquhart. “If landowners in B.C. are ever to get fair, owed land-use compensation they will have to come together.”
Urquhart says that landowners are excluded from government funded advocacy offices available to other landowners in B.C. and Alberta facing similar circumstances.
“The problem is the framework that the B.C. utilities use to decide their compensation payment is based on a land value and there is no correlation between a land value and the total impact value for which landowners are owed.”
BC Hydro spokesperson, Mary-Ann Coules, confirmed that the majority of Statutory Right-of-Way (ROW) agreements are granted in perpetuity and are registered with the BC Land Title and Survey Authority.
“A ROW agreement is binding for the current and all future owners of that property,” Coules told the Trail Times. “Acquisition of these rights is generally made through mutually agreed upon terms, and property owners are normally provided with a one-time lump sum payment at the time of the acquisition as compensation for these ongoing rights, which allows us to construct, operate, and maintain our infrastructure on the property.”
Urquhart has been looking for answers, sending letters and making inquiries to the B.C. government and power companies for more than 10 years.
In June, he organized a meeting with about a dozen West Kootenay landowners with ROW agreements and three local utility officials.
Several landowners agreed to put up signs on their property that read in part: “The land owner is requesting that employees or contractors of the electrical utilities stay off this private property until fair, owed land use compensation is paid.”
The Times contacted the former Minister of Forests, West Kootenay MLA Katrine Conroy, asking about the ROW agreements, and more specifically, if those conditions could be revisited to reflect current and future impacts, utilities’ profits and rate increases, and changes in land values?
The Ministry of Forests did not respond to the questions, but said in a statement: “Statutory Right-of-Way agreements are between the utility provider and the property owner.”
BC Hydro confirmed that the agreements are based on fair market value of the property at the time of purchase.
“This is similar to granting a driveway easement to your neighbour for access to their property,” said Coules. “The neighbour would have negotiated compensation to have access in perpetuity and the landowner would have accepted the compensation.
“The landowner would not be entitled to seek future compensation from the neighbour or any future owner of the neighbouring property for this easement.”
This, according to Urquhart, is a “false equivalency” and has to change.
An agreement for an easement such as an access road is much different than the massive structures occupying acres of land on privately owned property.
“Over the estimated lifespan of a transmission line, a rural B.C. landowner may only get about two per cent of the land use compensation compared to what all other energy producers in B.C. and Alberta that place above ground structures on private property consider fair,” said Urquhart. “This includes what the transmission line companies in Alberta compensate.”
For Urquhart and the landowners who posted signs, it is a way to invoke their property rights by protesting the ROW agreements, raise advocacy awareness, and promote a more flexible and equitable contract.
Urquhart says it is the landowner’s hope that government and utilities will cooperate — after all, the utilities have had a good run. He asks landowners across the province to demand fair, owed land-use compensation.
“Necessary change is coming,” he said.
“It is time landowners were treated fairly.”
If you have a transmission line on your property and share these concerns call Jim Urquhart at 250.367.7658.