The mayor of Lake Country says it’s something he was hoping for right from the start of the acquisition of the former CN Rail corridor.
James Baker says it was a good news announcement from the Okanagan Indian Band that they are joining the inter-jurisdictional development team (IDT) that will oversee the planning and construction of the 47.5 km rail corridor from Coldstream to Kelowna.
The team consists of representatives from Kelowna, Lake Country, the North Okanagan Regional District and now the Okanagan Indian Band (OKIB).
“I think it’s great,” said Baker of last week’s announcement from the OKIB. “That’s what I was hoping they would do from the get-go because it can be a good benefit and an advantage for them, as well they are part of the partnership and the planning of what goes along the corridor.”
“They own the corridor where it goes through [Indian Reserve] IR-7 (a 2.5 km stretch near Duck Lake) and they can look at development possibilities there and in some places where there was traditional winter dwelling.”
The announcement from the OKIB … means they become a partner with Lake Country, Kelowna and the North Okanagan Regional District (NORD) as the group is now in the planning stages of moving forward with the CN Rail Corridor, now being called the Okanagan Corridor.
“We want to be a good partner,” said Allan Louis, OKIB councillor.
Last year, the band applied for an injunction to stop Canadian National’s sale of the rail corridor to local communities.
The Commonage Indian reserve, which includes 22 kilometres of the rail corridor, was created in 1877, but the band says federal and provincial officials eliminated the reserve a decade later.
The band insisted that when a portion of the corridor ceased to be used for railway purposes, it should have reverted to band control instead of CN selling the property to the Regional District of North Okanagan, Lake Country and Kelowna.
The injunction was denied and, as a result, the band council decided to join the trail development process.
“We have chosen to move forward in a new direction to ensure our involvement and demonstrate our desire to engage in positive discussions with our neighbours. As the cultural gateway to the Okanagan, council seeks to partner on investments that will have significant benefits to the region,” stated a release from the OKIB.
The band insists, though, that participation in the IDT does not affect its title or the Commonage claim.
“We want to be part of the trail and the land claim is separate,” said Louis.
Some ideas are already being put forward for development of the corridor, including possibly cultural stations.
“Some of our historic sites are along the corridor. First Nations have always been here and want to share that,” said Darcy Aubin, OKIB’s director of lands and economic development.
Having OKIB join the development team means that the 2.5 kilometres of the corridor within the Duck Lake reserve will look the same as the rest of the trail.
“We’ve been instructed that it won’t cost us any money for construction and there will be fundraising. Perhaps there may be maintenance costs down the road,” said Aubin.
The existing members of the inter-jurisdictional development team are pleased to see the OKIB involved.
“We’ve always encouraged them to be part of this development group,” said David Sewell, Regional District of North Okanagan chief administrative officier.
“Their goals and our goals are not mutually exclusive.”
While CN has until early to mid 2017 to finish remedial work on what’s now called the Okanagan corridor – removing rail ties and tracks and doing environmental remediation – local councils will soon get a look [at] preliminary plans for the corridor.
Project manager Andrew Gibbs at the City of Kelowna says the inter-jurisdictional team (IDT) is in the planning, design and costing phases of the corridor and by April they will be ready to present a trail development plan to the ownership groups including the councils in Kelowna and Lake Country as well as NORD and the OKIB.
“Over the winter we have been planning and consulting and designing and we want to have a trail development plan prepared with cost estimates so we can go to the councils involved and show them what it will take to get a basic gravel trail on the corridor,” he said.
“We have a partnership with Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative and once we have the development plan in front of councils, they will get the go ahead to start fundraising. The local governments have allocated funding (to buy the corridor) and the intention is to fund the development of the trail through fundraising.”
Gibbs said the group is also continuing to work with individual property owners where the trail crosses through their property or over driveways to make sure the trail runs continuously from Kelowna to Coldstream when it opens. – with files from Vernon Morningstar.
– by Kevin Parnell, Lake Country Calendar, February 24, 2016, pp. A1-A2.