KELOWNA - The provincial government recently pledged more than $7 million for the CN Rail corridor purchase but it does nothing to solve Lake Country’s shortfall of $2.6 million.
It may also have created a new problem — voter apathy in Lake Country where a yes vote for the purchase is still critical to the deal ever getting done. The province has said the money it is providing is incumbent upon a successful referendum.
“The provincial money has already been factored in. It will not reduce the need for the money from Lake Country,” Duane Thomson says in speaking for the Lake Country Rail Trail Action Team, a pro-purchase group that has set up an office there and is actively pushing for a yes vote in the April 25 referendum.
The group aims to raise $30,000 for its campaign and is planning a rally in Beasley Park just before the referendum.
“We’re also buying ads, printing T-shirts and lawn signs and putting out door-hangers,” Thomson says.
Doug Gilchrist, a City of Kelowna director who heads the corridor acquisition team, confirms the deal still hinges on a successful referendum.
“The distribution of costs doesn’t change. The referendum is still critical,” Gilchrist says. “(The provincial money) just confirms another piece of the funding.”
Gilchrist says he has not seen seen anything new from another potential hurdle for the corridor purchase, the possible injunction by the Okanagan Indian Band, which is seeking to kill the deal and force the federal government to acknowledge its claim to the Okanagan Commonage Reserve.
“They have filed their claim but we haven’t seen any movement toward an injunction,” he adds.
In Lake Country, director of engineering Michael Mercer also emphasizes the undiminished need for a yes-side win.
“It does not take the importance or the focus off the referendum,” Mercer says. “But it’s nice to know the province is coming to the table. It reaffirms a lot of things for us.”
He downplays the emergence of individual landowners along the route who have encumberances on the rail corridor through right-of-first-refusal on purchasing the land from CN.
“We are aware of it but the deal requires the land to be unencumbered when it’s transfered from CN,” Mercer says. “There’s other tools municipalities have. We don’t see that as a show stopper.”
For his part, Thomson describes the potential for a property owner to kill the deal with a right-of-first-refusal as low and says a stewardship group would be formed to address their concerns.
“A lot of adjacent landowners may have some fears but the experience in other rail trails is those fears don’t materialize,” he says. “I think these are speed bumps. I don’t think any of them are deal-breakers."
Despite the setbacks the corridor purchase has seen, Gilchrist says he remains commited to the concept of a multi-use corridor stretching from Kelowna to Vernon.
“I wouldn’t be continuing to push for it if I didn’t believe in it,” he adds.
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