The Yukon government approached the Salvation Army about selling the land the Yukon Adult Resource Centre (ARC) sat on, with the organization eager to start the process in early November 2019.
The News, through an access-to-information request, obtained emails between staff from both the Departments of Justice and Highways and Public Works (HPW) as well as the Salvation Army from late 2019 into early 2020.
The emails show that officials knew about the certainty of the land sale, and the associated closure of the ARC — the territory’s only halfway house — well before the news was made public.
They also contradict statements made by a minister in the legislative assembly regarding who the government was in discussions with in regards to property acquisitions to make room for the the Alaska Highway expansion in Whitehorse’s Hillcrest neighbourhood.
Inklings of the Yukon government buying the ARC property were apparent since at least Sept. 6, 2019, when HPW regional program manager Sandra MacDougall forwarded a land appraisal to someone at the Salvation Army (the person’s name is redacted).
“I’ve reviewed but not in detail,” MacDougall wrote. “When you’re ready, let’s talk next steps.”
Someone from the Salvation Army responded on Nov. 5, 2019, writing that the board at the divisional office in Edmonton “has approved the go-ahead on selling the ARC property to YG.”
“In our meeting, it was mentioned that YG might be open to the idea of a ‘land swap,’” the person wrote. “We’re not interested in looking at other property, at this time, so are looking to sell.
“In addition to the certified appraisal completed, our internal process also looks for a real estate evaluation. We will get that done in the next few days, and then take the next steps we require.”
However, when Yukon Party MLA Geraldine Van Bibber asked about plans to purchase the property in the legislative assembly on Nov. 27, 2019, HPW minister Richard Mostyn said his department was “currently speaking with the owners of the Airport Chalet, but that’s the only site that, I’ve been told, we are actually working on to obtain to make the highway right-of-way wider.”
The ARC property is technically not in the right-of-way, but is immediately adjacent to it. A Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board proposal from January stated that the widening of the highway would “result in cut-slopes that will undermine the stability of the current slope upon which the ARC is situated.”
HPW staff, at one point, discussed the possibility of building a retaining wall to reinforce the slope, should the Salvation Army chose not to sell the property nor relocate the ARC.
Building that wall, though, would be “expensive,” HPW assistant deputy minister Paul Murchison wrote in a Jan. 10 email.
“Acquiring the Salvation Army property may be less expensive than constructing a retaining wall,” Murchison said. He also noted two other benefits to buying the property — the “potential for long term future development of services roads and intersections” in the area and the elimination of a steep grade that “is not a desirable access point on the highway.”
The estimated cost of the wall is redacted from the documents, as is the potential cost of buying the property.
Mostyn, again responding to a question from the Yukon Party, also said in the legislative assembly on March 5 that the “the Salvation Army came and said that they would like to talk to us about acquiring the property there.”
This contradicts a Jan. 9 email from HPW’s manager of highway and airport design and construction, Brian Crist.
“Essentially if we do not acquire our construction costs will rise,” Crist wrote in response to an email chain about how to respond to “concerns raised by the opposition” about the “expropriation” of the land.
“YG approached SA first and they have been receptive throughout. Emphasize this is land acquisition discussion only, not expropriation.”
The ARC closed on April 30. It’s since been replaced with a facility located in what was formerly Unit E of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, with programming run by the justice-focused NGO the John Howard Society.
Contact Jackie Hong at email@example.com