CN corridor plans moving ahead as issues with homeowners, native band persist

With CN taking most of 2016 to remove the rail ties and do environmental work, communities that purchased the corridor moving forward

  • Thu Oct 29th, 2015 5:00am
  • News

As development plans move ahead for the future of a 47 kilometre trail linking Kelowna, Lake Country and Vernon along the old CN Rail corridor, talks are still continuing with a pair of home-owners where the corridor passes through private property.

Municipal councils in Kelowna and Lake Country have endorsed a new inter-jurisdictional development team to work towards development of a continuous trail between the communities along the CN corridor, which the group purchased for $22 million dollars earlier this year.

But there remains a few sticking points as CN removes the final cars as well as gets set to take out the rail ties and do some environmental remediation work over the next year or more. That includes completing the talks with the property owners and finding a consensus out how the trail will continue through or near their property as well as figuring out how the Okanagan Indian Band will fit into the picture.

“We’re still working with the (two) property owners and things are moving in a positive direction,” said Doug Gilchrist, the director of community planning and real estate at the City of Kelowna who added the OKIB will also be part of future planning. “Our understanding is the lands within the OKIB reserve will transfer from CN to OKIB.”

Gilchrist said the group has invited the OKIB to be a part of the development team but band chief Byron Louis said he has yet to receive such an invite and added there are many issues still to deal with including the transfer of the lands within the OKIB reserve as well as cultural sites along the trail.

“There are a lot of historic sites along the way that were in essence fishing stations so there are cultural sites that will need to be dealt with,” said Louis. “The rail corridor never left reserve status. The only thing that was put on there was a right-of-way for the rail line and now that that is no longer the purpose that reverts back to reserve land.”

The OKIB lost an injunction hearing in BC Supreme Court earlier this year, asking that the sale be stopped and Louis said he wasn’t surprised by the ruling which dealt with what was known as the Commonage reserve, lands closer to Vernon.

In the meantime, as CN looks to begin the process of removing rail ties, municipal councils in each jurisdiction are being asked to approve the formation of an inter-jurisdictional development team with representatives from each area to plan and develop the initial improvements required to provide a continuous recreation trail between the three jurisdictions.

On June 1, 2015 Lake Country, Kelowna and NORD combined to purchase 47 kilometres of the discontinued CN Rail corridor running through their jurisdictions, with the final piece of the puzzle being the successful referendum in Lake Country that allowed the district to borrow its share of the purchase price.

A report to Lake Country council from the inter-jurisdictional acquisition team, led by Kelowna, states that at this point there is no plans to develop a multi-modal regional transportation infrastructure within the corridor, but instead the plan is to move ahead and try to get a continuous trail in operation.

According to Gilchrist it will still likely be 2017 before any development on the corridor takes place as it will take CN Rail at least all of 2016 to remove rail ties and complete environmental remediation work.

The objectives of the development team are to:

• ensure the corridor provides long term public benefits both locally and regionally

• provide for the development of a continuous corridor for non-motorized transportation and recreation

• maintain the integrity and capability of the corridor to support the future development and operation of a continuous multi-modal transportation corridor

• ensure the scope and timing of trail development reflects the capacity of the owner jurisdictions to fund the development

• encourage a high level of community engagement in the planning and development of the corridor

• protect public safety and minimize risk in the development and use of the corridor

• consider beneficial opportunities with adjacent lands

• pursue grant funding from senior levels of government as well as donations from community groups, foundations, business and the general public.