Kelowna’s mayor says when it comes to regional projects, such as a bid by several Okanagan municipalities to acquire the unused CN rail line right-of-way between Kelowna and Vernon, it’s vitally important to make sure area First Nations are consulted and included from the start.
Gray made the comment Monday during council’s regular meeting in response to local media reports the Okanagan Indian Band had not been consulted as Kelowna, Lake Country, Coldstream and the North Okanagan Regional District put together a proposal to buy the rail corridor. Kelowna is leading the negotiations for four local governments.
Gray said the OIB was consulted but declined to participate because it has a pending land claim in the Commonage area near Vernon.
According to Kelowna city manger Ron Mattiussi, the band also has a “revision clause” for some of the lands along the rail corridor on its reserve that stipulates if CN does not use the lands for the rail line, they revert back to the band.
At the council meeting, Gray warned that if First Nations are not involved from the start on major projects such as the rail corridor or the proposed second crossing of Okanagan Lake, there could be problems down the road. But he said in both cases that won’t happen as the OIB was consulted in the case of the rail line and the WFN is part of a technical committee for regional transportation that is looking at second crossing issues.
He said the city has very good relationships with both the WFN and the OIB and feels the province has also learned to consult First Nations early one after it failed to do so when it planned the William R. Bennett Bridge in the mid-2000s.
But while Gray said the province’s failure back then resulted in extra costs for the city when it came to improving the east side approach to the new bridge on Harvey Avenue, Mattiussi said said that was not the case.
He said the reason Kelowna had to pay more for the east side approach was because the public rejected creation of a one-way road couplet using Water Street/Pandosy Street and Ellis Street as a way to move north-south traffic across the highway.
He added the city always knew it was responsible for the east approach improvements and it cost $21 million for the improvements—which included realigning Water Street with Pandosy, changes to Abbott Street at Harvey Avenue and work at other nearby intersections—instead of $9 million for the couplet.
“But that had nothing to do with what was happening on the west side (approach),” he said.
Unlike in Kelonwa, the province paid for the highway approach improvements on the west side of the lake. One of the WFN’s reserves surround the area where the bridge lands on the Westside.
Gray contends the province ran out of money for the bridge project because it agreed to pay for additional work on the west side of the lake.
Meanwhile, the city and its Okanagan municipal partners are putting together a proposal to buy the now unused rail corridor.
Mattiussi said there are associated lands that are part of the overall right-of-way that would not be needed by the municipalities to create a trail stretching from the Central to the North Okanagan. SO they need to be taken out of any proposed sale.
“We are currently trying to disentangle all that,” he said.
Originally, CN was asking $50 million for all the lands, but Mattiussi said that was a starting price based on a “highest and best use” estimate. Negotiations still have to take place.
While he said he expects the final price to be lower, he could not say what it would be.
And while he said the municipalities have not yet put any money on the table, Mattiussi said he hopes to see the province and federal government’s contribute to the project.