Roughly 40 per cent of the provincial government's $1 billion budget for the South Fraser Perimeter Road will be spent on property acquisition to clear a path for the alignment through Surrey and North Delta, Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon has revealed.
During legislative assembly debate with Delta North NDP MLA Guy Genter this week, Falcon said the government was initially looking at expropriating more than 200 homes to make way for the alignment. That number has since been reduced by about 50 per cent or so, Falcon noted, but continues to be in flux as alignment issues arise.
Falcon, Liberal MLA for Surrey-Cloverdale, said this is the single largest property acquisition process B.C.'s Ministry of Transportation has ever undertaken on one project.
The entire Gateway project budget is $3 billion, Falcon told the Now, with the SFPR consuming about one-third of that.
Genter was shocked to hear the SFPR's budget is now set at $1 billion instead of $800 million.
"It's outrageous," Gentner told the Now. "It's gone up from $800 million to $1 billion in the wink of an eye. The most ridiculous thing of all, I think, is 40 per cent of the cost is going to be into property acquisitions."
Surrey Whalley MLA Bruce Ralston, the NDP's finance critic, noted that the Vancouver Convention Centre extension's initial budget was $495 million but is now in the $800 million to $900 million range. He said he's not surprised the SFPR budget is now $1 billion.
"That's a 20 per cent increase," he said, "and the bills haven't stopped coming in, so (the Liberal's) claim that they're effective managers of the public funds is just not borne out by the facts."
But Falcon sees the increase not as a cost overrun but a well-planned one for inevitability.
The government, he explained, set up an "extraordinary contingency" of $300 million for the entire Gateway project.
"The reason that we did that is because we knew as we went through public consultation there was going to have to be changes made. At that time I was keenly aware of what was happening with rising property values. I didn't want any surprises."
Falcon noted the government is spending more on environmental mitigation than it expected to, and has also made accommodations to save farmland in East Ladner.
"The total budget has not changed. It's still $3 billion, and that's what's going to be going forward," Falcon said. "I'm very comfortable with this."
But Gentner remains a skeptic.
"That certainly raised my eyebrows," he said of the contingency. "How many other contingencies are there going to be in place?"
During debate this week, Gentner asked Falcon if Sunbury Cedar, which employs roughly 200 workers, will be forced to close as a result of the SFPR alignment along River Road.
Falcon replied that he didn't know.
Sunbury Cedar has been a North Delta institution since it first opened with six employees in 1960. Brant Fisher, its general manager, stressed that there's "absolutely" no plan to close the mill.
published on 03/31/2007