VERNON - While a recent funding announcement from the provincial government may entice some Lake Country voters towards a yes vote in an upcoming borrowing referendum, the Okanagan Indian Band is warning governments not to celebrate just yet.
Premier Christy Clark announced a $7.2 million pledge for the acquisition of the Okanagan Rail corridor the morning of Tuesday, April 7, contingent on the outcome of Lake Country’s April 25 referendum, which will ask voters to borrow up to $2.6 million for its share of a $22 million deal with CN Rail.
Brad Clements, with the Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative, says the provincial funding won’t cover Lake Country’s share, but will fill a $7.2 million shortfall in the whole deal. It’s a development he says might put some voters’ minds at ease as they head to the polls.
“Obviously, if one of your concerns was this unaccounted for portion of the sale, well now it’s accounted for,” Clements says, adding his group aims to inform residents of the benefits the rail trail would bring, not to tell them how to vote.
The Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative will be at two upcoming events hosted by the Lake Country Rail Trail group, an open house April 13 at the Creekside Theatre and a rally April 19 at Beasley Park.
“I see (the funding announcement) not only as a commitment, but as a sign of this being a good investment for our community. They’re acknowledging this is money well spent,” Clements says.
The announcement means little to the Okanagan Indian Band, which recently filed a lawsuit against CN Rail and the local municipalities trying to buy the land. Chief Byron Louis says the band has title rights to a large portion of the 47.5 km corridor.
“From our perspective, (the provincial funding) doesn’t change what’s gone before the courts, because the claim is not based upon political support of the initiative,” Louis says. “As for the announcement, it’s free publicity when you think about it. If we win our case, it didn’t cost them a dime.”
He says the band has a strong case, and will continue to fight for land it argues was taken from them many years ago.
“We wouldn’t put forward a claim if we didn’t think we had some chance of winning…. To litigate a losing claim is something our membership would not support,” Louis says. “We’re fairly confident we’re standing on some pretty good ground.”
If the Lake Country referendum is successful, local municipalities would be on track to acquire the land as of June 1, but an injunction from the courts could change that.
“Our only message to them would be don’t pull out the champagne cork just yet,” Louis says.
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