December 29, 2014 - 2:30 PM
THIS WEEK, INFONEWS.CA IS COUNTING DOWN THE TOP FIVE STORIES OF 2014. TODAY: NUMBER FIVE
KELOWNA - Okanagan municipalities making history by signing a deal with the Canadian National Railway to buy a nearly 50-kilometer long corridor between Vernon and Kelowna.
The scenic stretch of land came available after the Kelowna Pacific Railway announced bankruptcy in the summer of 2013. CN Rail acquired the line and while it resumed service on some portions of the network, the section between Vernon and Kelowna would stay closed.
CN first offered the corridor to any company willing to reopen the line — something local manufacturing businesses crossed their fingers for. It wasn’t to be. The deadline passed and no deal was reached. It was the end of the line for the corridor as a railroad.
The process moved along, with federal, then provincial governments given the chance to scoop up the land. No deals were reached. Then it was local government’s turn. An acquisition team, comprised of the North Okanagan Regional District, District of Lake Country, City of Kelowna and Central Okanagan Regional District, was formed and work began to negotiate a purchase deal with CN, which was asking for $50 million at the time.
The Citizens for an Okanagan Rail Trail stepped up efforts to raise awareness about the benefits a recreational pathway would bring, and in December, municipalities announced a deal had been reached for $22 million, plus a charitable land donation receipt.
While 2014 was all about acquiring the land, 2015 will likely focus on what to do with it. One of the most popular ideas for the corridor is as a multi-use rail trail, but municipalities say no decision will be made without ample public consultation. Right now, municipalities will only say the corridor is being preserved for all forms of ‘multi-modal transportation.’
And while municipalities have until April 9 to finalize funding sources and complete the deal, the Okanagan Indian Band has advanced a land claim on a large portion of the corridor. If successful, the claim would see the former Commonage Reserve, which stretches roughly from Oyama to the Vernon Army Camp, returned to the band. The First Nation has spoken out in opposition of the deal between CN Rail and local municipalities. It remains unknown whether the federal government will reopen the Commonage land claim.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014