Highway heartbreak: Family’s anguish at home demolition
JUST below the surface of a Cairns roadworks package worth almost half a billion dollars is a tale of human heartbreak.
While most people in the community have welcomed crucial upgrades along the Bruce Highway between Edmonton and Gordonvale, there are others whose once-settled lives have been irrevocably changed forever.
Greg and Bec De Lai's family home they shared with their two children on Harris Road at Wrights Creek was bulldozed last week.
Compounding the heartbreak was the Department of Transport and Main Roads paying half what the property was worth and wearing the couple down to settle through a series of "nasty" emails.
"Our hearts have been broken," Ms De Lai said.
"It's a stress like no other, it has financially ruined us.
"The past week we (have) watched our home (come) down, the space where we watched our babies grow and took the ambition to go into business."
On March 1, 2017, the De Lai family officially lost their home.
Now, 10 months on from a mediation process, the family's personal savings have been eaten up by legal costs and they are still waiting for a second payment for the property.
Ms De Lai said her family had gone from a six-bedroom home with workshop facilities where her husband ran an engineering business to a small three-bedroom house with a single carport.
"This was the best property we could find with limited funds and a deadline to relocate by June 2020," she said.
Ms De Lai said she understood the road had to be built and didn't question the need for the infrastructure upgrade but was shocked by the tactics employed by TMR solicitors.
"It's a complete bully act that they drag on for years to wear you down. (You become) so emotionally thin that you have a breakdown and give up," she said.
"At that point they offer you what they think is fair and not take into account any valuations provided."
The mother-of-two has called for a review of the Acquisition of Land Act tabled in 1967.
She described it as an unfair and outdated law that stacked the deck in favour of the state.
"The process is unjust - an Act written so long ago in time that no empathy was written into it. They hide behind this and ruin families for the sake of their projects," she said.
After being contacted by the De Lais, Mulgrave MP Curtis Pitt wrote to Transport Minister Mark Bailey.
"The department made an offer to the De Lais that was substantially below their submission, with no breakdown or explanation of the offer provided and acceptance required the same day," he said.
Still, Ms De Lai alleges Mr Pitt refused to meet them personally.
"He had enough time to turn the soil with the minister but can't face the people who have lost their homes," she said.
A TMR spokesman said 14 houses in the way of the new road were identified as being affected by the Edmonton to Gordonvale project.
"In an ideal world, road upgrades would be done without any impact on people's homes, but unfortunately this is not always possible," he said.
"We are working closely with directly impacted property owners to ensure all property resumptions are handled fairly, consistently and sensitively."
Mr Pitt did concede he had not met the family face-to-face but told the Cairns Post his office had been supporting the De Lais.
"It's a tough one, it really is. I have advocated for them same as I have for anyone whose home has been compulsorily acquisitioned and that they are treated fairly and with respect," he said.
Mr Pitt said he had raised concerns relating to mental health problems often associated with compulsory acquisition with the director general.
Ms De Lais said her heart went out to all those who had lost homes in this process.
"On the journey, we have learned, become better people, leaned into our faith deeper and through all the heartbreak I'm grateful we were able to come through together," she said.
Originally published as Highway heartbreak: Family's anguish at home demolition