Land swap political rhetoric still heated

West Kelowna’s mayor is firing back at B.C. Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom over Lekstrom’s comments last week that the municipality is the one unwilling to discuss a controversial land swap between the province and the Westbank First Nation.

West Kelowna’s mayor is firing back at B.C. Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom over Lekstrom’s comments last week that the municipality is the one unwilling to discuss a controversial land swap between the province and the Westbank First Nation.

“First of all, Minister Lekstrom is not accurate when he suggests that the District of West Kelowna has been unwilling to discuss the controversial land exchange,” said Findlater in a news release issued Monday afternoon.

“In fact, council met with two senior ministry officials and Westside-Kelowna MLA Ben Stewart in late July and West Kelowna repeatedly asked for key documentation related to this deal, which is evident in letters sent to the minister’s office on Dec. 21, 2010, and April 13, 2011.”

In addition, said Findlater, he and his councillors have had “quite a few” other meetings with Stewart and ministry staff about the issue.

It was only when it became apparent that the ministry was attempting to get West Kelowna to sign what the district maintains was a co-management agreement on watershed issues, that council directed its staff to decline further meetings and negotiations which would “legitimize and sanction the go-ahead of the deal,” said the mayor.

“The land exchange arrangement is fundamentally not in West Kelowna’s interest,” he said.

The mayor’s comments follow last week’s conference call Lekstrom held with local media to address Findlater’s stated opposition to the province wanting to swap 698 acres of land around the Rose Valley reservoir for a total of eight acres used as part of the current construction of the new Westside Road overpass on Highway 97.

During the conference call, Lekstrom said it was unfortunate West Kelowna decided not to engage the province in discussions. “That one, I’m somewhat confused on,” said Lekstrom.

He also denied a West Kelowna estimate of the value of the land in question, saying the land the WFN would receive was worth just $5.9 million as it is undeveloped and parts of it cannot be developed because of its location in a watershed.

West Kelowna says the land is worth between $28 million and $42 million. Both sides agree that the land the province has received for the overpass work is worth $8 million.

On Monday, Findlater urged the B.C. government to “come clean” on the circumstances surrounding the proposed deal with the WFN, including releasing the documents used in the province’s valuation of the Rose Valley lands.

West Kelowna has released documents showing how its valuation was arrived at, he said.

“Council is very concerned about the obvious financial inequities of the deal,” said Findlater, adding there is also concern about the loss of Rose Valley Regional Park land and the potential impact on a source of West Kelowna’s drinking water.

“Put the facts on the table for West Kelowna and B.C. taxpayers to see,” said Findlater.

 

awaters@kelownacapnews.com

 

 

Kelowna Capital News