West Kelowna takes steps to avoid land swap deja vu

Preventing last year's proposed land swap between Westbank First Nation and the provincial government came at a cost for the District of West Kelowna.

Many hours were spent by district staff and council members researching the issue and educating the public of implications regarding the proposed deal that would have transferred a 698-acre parcel of Crown land around Rose Valley reservoir to WFN in exchange for eight acres of land used in the Westside Road Interchange Project.

Perhaps more costly was the damage done to the relationship between West Kelowna, WFN and the province. Throughout the eight month process, the governments used media to voice their opinions and frustrations more often than meeting with each other to discuss the issue.

In the end, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations decided 85 per cent of the land identified in the proposal would not be in the public's interest to trade.

Although the result was a victory for the district, many considered the whole scenario a loss for all governments involved.

To ensure that type of conflict is avoided in the future, the District of West Kelowna is providing input for a federal review of the Addition to Reserve policy process.

Senior staff with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada visited West Kelowna council Tuesday.

Kris Johnson, senior director of lands modernization, told council the current Addition to Reserve policy has been in place for over 10 years.

"We do revise it from time to time, but it tends to be on about a 10 to 15 year cycle," said Johnson.

"We feel like we are at a good juncture now to make some updates, incorporate some of the lessons that we've learned over recent years."

Johnson said the goal is to come up with a revised policy "that reflects all of the various interests that are impacted when you change the status of lands from one jurisdiction to another."

Coun. Rick de Jong said a revised policy should collect feedback from affected municipalities early in the process.

"One of the flaws I see in the process is at what point in the process the provincial and federal government are engaging local municipal government. It needs to happen as soon in the process as possible. Where that engagement is happening now needs to be improved on," said de Jong.

Coun. Carol Zanon told Johnson it's important that the municipalities have their opinions heard before land transfers take place.

"It's our land that's being affected and our taxpayers and we feel that we have a real interest in knowledge and being aware of these transactions at an earlier stage than what it has been in the past," said Zanon.

Findlater gave Johnson several specific suggestions to review, including the transfer's impact on municipal infrastructure, the tax base and the municipality's Official Community Plan. He also requested a parity in environmental laws and inquired about compensation for transferred land that is serviced by the municipality.

He also suggested forming a joint planning body to review such issues.

Johnson said West Kelowna's input will be considered in the review process.


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