DWK happy, WFN disappointed with land swap decision

Two Westside governing bodies had two very different reactions to the province's land swap announcement on Tuesday.

  • Wed Mar 14th, 2012 7:00pm
  • News

Two Westside governing bodies had two very different reactions to the B.C.

Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations’ (FLNRO) decision to

sever a majority of the land at Rose Valley from a controversial land swap

proposal.

On Tuesday, the government announced that more than 85 per cent of the 698

acres of land proposed to be transferred to Westbank First Nation are not be in

the public interest to be traded; therefore, they will remain Crown land.

Parcels of Crown land that were deemed unsuitable for transfer include lands

around the Rose Valley watershed, lands in the Central Okanagan Regional

District regional park area and lands in the area of gravel reserves.

“As with all potential transfers, my ministry does a comprehensive review that

considers the social, environmental and economic impacts,” said Steve Thomson,

minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

“My decision that these parcels are not suitable was based on staff’s professional

assessment.”

The lands in question were proposed in exchange for the commercial reserve

lands required to construct the $41 million Westside Road Interchange along

Highway 97.

“We’re pleased with where the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource

Operations has gone with this,” said Mayor Doug Findlater.

The West Kelowna mayor said that the district is still curious about one parcel

of land that wasn’t officially taken off the table.

“We do know that there is still one piece in Rose Valley, that is basically northeast

of the park parcel, (which) is still being discussed.

“We’ll be digging in and finding out more about that. What we’ve been told is

anything that is watershed, anything that is park, anything that (is) gravel

are areas that were excluded. We’re wondering about that particular parcel that

they have included and what the significance of that is.”

Findlater said that the next step is to gain conservation status for the Rose

Valley lands to ensure that they are never subject to transfer in the future.

“We’re looking for some kind of conservation status for that whole area that’s

being discussed. Let’s make that an area that’s off limits for any kind of

transfers, any kind of private development in the future.

“I think the public would be very pleased with that kind of ending to this

whole episode.”

Findlater also noted that the “long awaited Freedom of Information request”

that the district made to the province more than six months ago arrived on

Monday.

“It’s about 414 pages of documents, some which stretch back to the 1950s and

some more current . . . we haven’t had time to do a detailed analysis of it,”

said Findlater.

“It’s already on the district website . . . it’s available for the public to

take a look at.”

Findlater said that the district’s persistence was a key to getting these lands

taken off the negotiating table.

But Westbank First Nation saw the government’s announcement in a different

light.

“We have honoured our end of the agreement. The province has a contractual,

trust and moral obligation to honour and satisfy the land exchange terms of our

government to government agreement,” said WFN Chief Robert Louie.

“Our legal options are now being explored.”

WFN is requesting that the province put forward the parameters and criteria

used to determine the suitability of lands for transfer.

“We are concerned about the process used to make this decision, and

particularly, the lack of opportunity to adequately explore the options

provided by the Ministry of Transportation in their submission to FLNRO prior

to this decision being made,” said Louie.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and Westbank First Nation

have already begun exploring other land options for exchange.

Once new lands are identified, all three parties—including the District of West

Kelowna—will work together to ensure broad public interests are identified and

addressed early in negotiations.

wpaterson@kelownacapnews.com