Work to complete the southwest transitway corridor will begin next month after Winnipeg council cleared the last hurdle, with the approval of the controversial $20.4-million Hydro corridor land purchase.

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This article was published 15/6/2016 (2044 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Work to complete the southwest transitway corridor will begin next month after Winnipeg council cleared the last hurdle, with the approval of the controversial $20.4-million Hydro corridor land purchase.

Council voted 11-5 Wednesday afternoon to approve the land deal, after first defeating an attempt to delay the purchase and a move to cancel it completely.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Winnipeg Councillors Russ Wyatt (left) and Shawn Dobson were two of the eight councillors refusing to sign the non disclosure agreement.</p></p>

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Councillors Russ Wyatt (left) and Shawn Dobson were two of the eight councillors refusing to sign the non disclosure agreement.

Mayor Brian Bowman, who actively pressured councillors to support the sale, said afterwards he was pleased with the outcome.

Bowman repeatedly described the deal as "acceptable" and said council can now focus on building the transitway.

Bowman said no one should have been surprised that some councillors would be strongly opposed to the deal.

"Rapid transit has been controversial for decades," Bowman told reporters following the council meeting. "When you’re involving that much public money, there are going to be different views…

"I think councillors have done their work, they were doing their job," Bowman said of the attempts to block the Hydro purchase. "This involves big dollars on a big project and it shouldn’t surprise anyone on something that has been, historically, such a controversial topic, that we’re going to have different views."

The completion of the southwest transitway will largely be built along a portion of Hydro’s transmission corridor — a total of 16 acres that skirts the Parker lands, west of Pembina Highway, then runs straight southeast between two industrial parks and a south Fort Garry residential area to CN Rail’s Letellier line just north of Bishop Grandin Boulevard.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>St. Norbert Ward Councillor Janice Lukes</p>

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

St. Norbert Ward Councillor Janice Lukes

Construction is supposed to begin in July, with completion in late 2019. The transitway corridor is supposed to go operational in early 2020.

The purchase was seen as controversial because an administrative report stated that Hydro had reneged on an agreement that would see an independent appraiser determine the value of the land, according to methodology both sides accepted. However, Hydro balked when the appraisal came in at $4.6 million and went out got its own appraisal, at $34 million; and eventually pressured city officials into accepting a deal for $20.4 million. The final deal placed the value of the Hydro land at $1.275 million an acre.

Local appraisers told the Free Press the Hydro numbers and the final deal, were outrageous — making the land comparable to highly valuable commercial land rather than the isolated, vacant, undeveloped land that it is.

Despite what many considered to be an inflated price, the city administration said there would be room in Transit's $587.3-million budget to cover the additional expenses.

City officials, who were supporting the deal, didn’t do themselves any favours when they released information minutes before Wednesday’s council meeting. The administration claimed the deal was good for the city but also said that Hydro had sold transmission corridor land to developer Shindico along Taylor Avenue for its Walmart development for $280,000 an acre; and that developer Andrew Marquess had purchased CN Rail land near the transmission corridor for $260,000 an acre.

Events leading up to the vote were chaotic and unprecedented. Council took a recess in the morning for a private meeting with the administration but half of council, including three members of Bowman’s executive policy committee (Janice Lukes, Jeff Browaty, Brian Mayes) walked out when they were asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement prevent them from discussing with anyone what they were about to be told.

In the days leading up to the council meeting, it wasn’t clear there were enough votes to approve the purchase. And, on Wednesday morning, there were two attempts to amend the deal: Councillors Janice Lukes and Russ Wyatt wanted the deal to be put on hold for a month, with the province to be asked to send the issue to binding arbitration.

Couns. Jeff Browaty and Shawn Dobson proposed a motion to kill the transitway project outright and redirect the funds to road work, other transit improvements and to the city’s water and sewer infrastructure.

But in the end, those amendments were defeated on identical 12-4 votes. Bowman argued on the floor of council that delaying the vote for a month was pointless: he said Hydro would not agree to renegotiate and the new Pallister government was on the record stating it wouldn’t interfere with decisions of a Crown corporation.

For her part, Lukes said she had no regrets for her opposition to the land sale.

Lukes said she’s been a longtime advocate for rapid transit but couldn’t support the Hydro purchase unless council had exhausted every effort to getter a better deal from Hydro.

Luke said she was not only opposed to the $20.4-million purchase price, but said she was concerned it would set a precedent for land values in the area and other city purchases.

Lukes said council should have put the question to the Pallister government, to send the dispute to binding arbitration.

"We have a duty to look out for the best public good," Lukes said. "I just really wanted to see more council members stand up and try to do a little more to get better value for these Hydro lands. It’s frustrating, it’s frustrating."

Coun. Ross Eadie said there were many reasons to vote against the Hydro purchase — the price, the tainted negotiations process, how it was brought to council — but he said it was important the city continue with rapid transit and complete the transitway.

Bowman defended the administration’s request to interrupt the council meeting for a special, closed-door briefing with councillors.

Bowman told reporters during the noon-hour break the non-disclosure agreement was necessary as councillors were going to be told about confidential, commercially sensitive information provided by the consortium designing and building the transitway corridor.

"We received information that, in my view and for those who wanted to receive it, will certainly assist me and others to make our decision," Bowman said.

Bowman said the council meeting was interrupted because the administration had only received permission Tuesday night from the consortium that is designing and building the transitway to share that confidential information with council but only on conditions they not discuss it with anyone else.

Bowman later confirmed that councillors were told about savings to the transitway project budget, something which officials had talked vaguely about last week. Bowman said more details would be released June 24.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca