Okanagan Rail Trail: Final push is on to close the missing link
This may sound all too familiar: “One last piece of Okanagan Rail Trail ‘nearing its final stage.’”
That was an iNFOnews.ca headline on Oct. 29, 2020 referring to the efforts being made by the Okanagan Indian Band to get legal ownership of the 2.3 km former CN rail line squeezed between Highway 97 and Duck Lake.
Without that, the 52 km Rail Trail from downtown Kelowna to Coldstream cannot be connected so anyone trying to cycle the whole route is being forced onto busy Highway 97.
But now, two years later, that process of adding the land to the band’s reserve may actually be near its final stage.
“We’ve prepared a package for the federal government,” Mac Logan, general manager of infrastructure for the City of Kelowna told iNFOnews.ca, Oct. 6. “It’s literally in, probably, its final week or two of review. We’re clarifying one clause with the federal government before we submit it.”
Local governments bought the closed rail line in 2016 and the trail was officially opened in the fall of 2018. The stretch from Old Vernon Road to Lake Country is still closed. Part of that is through a ranch and part is through Okanagan Indian Band Reserve #7.
There are four steps in the Addition of Reserve process that band is going through to get title to the land.
The first is to make the application. That’s followed by a letter of support from Indigenous Services Canada.
Then it goes back to the band to submit a “joint work plan.”
“Okanagan Indian Band is currently in Phase 3, working on replacement agreements with utility companies that need to be resolved before the submission can be sent for ministerial approval,” Indigenous Services Canada said in an email to iNFOnews.ca in May.
That is the final submission that Logan is getting ready to submit to the government.
The final stage is ministerial approval.
Logan has only been with the city for 10 months so could not speak to why that application has taken so long to complete.
But, an important boost came after a memorandum of understanding was signed by Kelowna, the band and Lake Country in February dealing with road, sewer and water connections between the two municipalities and the band.
That memorandum included the band agreeing that, once it got title to the rail line, it would become part of the Rail Trail.
“I don’t know if we needed it (memorandum of understanding) but it created a commitment from all the political entities to say: ‘Yeah. We’re all committed to getting to this outcome,’” Logan said. “They turned it over to the administration and said: ‘OK. Go for it.’”
Since then it has been a matter of a team working though the 36 pages and five schedules of documents from the federal government to prepare their submission.
Logan can’t say how long the approval process will take once the documents are submitted but suggested it will be months, not weeks.
“The feds, to be fair, once you get talking to the right people, some of the folks we’ve been working with in the last few weeks, they’ve been very pragmatic, very helpful,” Logan said. “They’re definitely supportive of the project and, having Okanagan Indian Band being completely supportive, is tremendous.”
The money is in place to complete the trail. Logan hopes work can start next year.
This comes, despite the fact that the Penticton Indian Band has been working for much longer on its own Addition to Reserve process trying to get back its ownership of the Kettle Valley Rail line though its territory.
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