VERNON - A team of local governments has reached a multi-million deal with CN Rail to purchase nearly 50 km of discontinued track between Vernon and Kelowna, but just how the land will be used remains unknown.
Doug Gilchrist, the City of Kelowna’s community planning and real estate director, says the group of municipalities are taking things one step at a time.
“This land acquisition is to protect all forms of multi-modal transportation,” Gilchrist said Monday. “What that means is short and long-term uses have not been decided.”
The City of Kelowna inked the $22-million deal Monday on behalf of its regional partners; the District of Lake Country and the North Okanagan Regional District, which represents Vernon and Coldstream. As part of the deal, CN will also receive a charitable donation receipt for land donation.
Perhaps the most popular idea for the land has been a recreational corridor, or rail trail, connecting the communities.
“Certainly that is a potential, and it seems like a great one. But I’m not sure it’s the only one,” Gilchrist said.
It’s expected the municipalities will consult with the public over the next year to determine how the corridor will be used, Gilchrist said.
Meanwhile, as per a reversionary clause that comes into play when a right-of-way is de-commissioned, a portion of the land will be returned to the Okanagan Indian Band reserve. Chief Byron Louis said about a kilometer just south of Lake Country will revert back to the Duck Lake Reserve. Another much larger stretch of the rail corridor goes through the band’s ancestral lands, Louis said.
“The railway also passes through the Commonage Reserve, extending from Winfield to the Vernon Army Camp, which was established by the Joint Review Commission of 1877 and subsequently taken out in the 1880s,” Louis said, adding the Commonage Reserve was never lawfully surrendered or otherwise lawfully taken.
As for future uses for land returned to the reserve, Louis said he won’t be the one making that decision.
“That’s something we’re looking at with our members. What’s the best use?” he said.
Asked if the band would be interested in collaborating with regional municipalities for a public use rail trail, Louis said it’s “premature for us to make that decision.”
“And again that’s up to our membership to decide,” he said.
Municipalities have a 120-day window to finalize funding sources, and it’s expected CN will have the rail infrastructure removed by the end of 2015.
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