Results of an “apples to apples comparison” on the controversial land swap between Westbank First Nation and the province should be released this week, according to Westside-Kelowna MLA Ben Stewart.
The land exchange, which has been publicly opposed by the District of West Kelowna, will see the province give up 698 acres around the north end of Rose Valley reservoir in exchange for eight acres of WFN land.
The initial appraisal, done by a company hired by the WFN, valued the 698 acres at $5.9 million.
The district claims that the land is worth between $28 million and $42 million, undeveloped.
To clear up the discrepancy, the province commissioned a third party appraisal on the lands.
Stewart said that the appraisal will “validate the pricing” of the transaction.
Stewart said that if the new appraisal indicates a disparity from the original $5.9 million land appraisal, then the province would be much more concerned with the deal.
“If it (is) in whatever the normal deviation or percentage (is) between two appraisers, I think that would be acceptable. If we’re talking millions of dollars, no, I don’t think we’d be talking about acceptable,” said Stewart.
Last Friday, Stewart addressed an open letter to the West Kelowna mayor and council, extending an invitation to meet and discuss ways to protect the district’s watershed.
The invitation came after West Kelowna council sent a letter to the B.C. Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, Blair Lekstrom, on Aug. 22, inviting the province to attend an upcoming council meeting to discuss concerns over the deal.
West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater said that he was puzzled by the open letter from Stewart because, he felt, it was essentially requesting what the district had already requested of the province.
Stewart said that the province is more focused on discussing “substantive” issues, instead of every single problem that West Kelowna council has with the land swap.
“(The Aug. 22 letter) says what they’d like to do is have a public meeting where the minister can come and talk about the 40 some different issues,” said Stewart.
The Liberal MLA said that the province hasn’t rejected the idea of meeting with council; however, they want to wait until the land values are released, as that may clear up a number of questions that couldn’t be otherwise answered.
Along with the value of the transaction, one of West Kelowna’s biggest concerns is the potential impact on Rose Valley reservoir and the loss of land from Rose Valley Regional Park.
On Aug. 4, Findlater told the Daily Courier, “The government is transferring jurisdiction from the public sphere to a relatively unaccountable entity in the WFN.”
Stewart said that comments like these have not been constructive.
“We’re looking for constructive dialogue on substantive issues. I think that if you were to read between the lines, I think that they have made this into a highly politicized issue of which they’ve whipped up sentiments towards WFN that are particularly ‘deconstructive,’” said Stewart. “(The WFN) are an accountable entity, even though the mayor has claimed that they are an unaccountable entity.”
Findlater said that he regretted using the word, but it didn’t change the fact that the district still has concerns.
“Unaccountable is the wrong word. I think one of the concerns is that these lands would move out of provincial jurisdiction to federal and WFN,” said Findlater.
“If you read (WFN’s) Self-Government Act, they have a lot of autonomy in terms of what they do from both federal and provincial governments. That’s a concern.
“The current group of people at WFN are a very positive, constructive group, and I hope that continues. But we have to think about other pressures (that may) come along in the next 10, 20 or 30 years.”
Findlater said that the invitation is still open for the province to come and speak to council. The Central Okanagan Regional District board has also requested that Lekstrom attend one of their meetings.
“I think it’s important to conduct our discussions face to face and not through the media,” said Findlater.
“We would prefer to discuss the impacts this land exchange may have on West Kelowna residents in an open and transparent manner.”