The mayor expressed great relief, the lead negotiator said they are very excited, the Okanagan Indian Band offered no comment and one of the no-side representatives said the sun still rose on Sunday, the day after almost 50 per cent of Lake Country residents turned out to vote and passed the CN Rail corridor referendum by a 3 to 1 margin.
The highest voter turnout for any election or referendum in Lake Country history saw 3,336 residents vote yes and 1,117 vote no, meaning Lake Country can go ahead and borrow $2.6 million giving the CN Rail corridor acquisition team the final part of the $22 million it needs to purchase the corridor from CN.
“I’m really relieved that people recognize that this really is an investment for the future and that we can still do what we have to in terms of running the municipality,” said Lake Country mayor James Baker. “This is an investment that we really did want to have Lake Country to have some control over what happens there.”
The deal with CN Rail is expected to close on June 1, although a BC Supreme Court hearing with the Okanagan Indian Band looking for an injunction to stop the sale is still expected to be heard before the deal can close, according to Doug Gilcrhist, the head of the inter-jurisdictional team.
“All the funding is now secured for the corridor acquisition and we will be proceeding forward with our agreement with CN with the goal of the June 1 close,” said Gilchrist. “We will continue to work with the property owners that have concerns and with First Nations.”
When it comes to the property owners most closely involved in the process moving forward, it comes down to the two Oyama properties that have the first-right-of-refusal to purchase the corridor from CN.
Gilchrist says they have been in negotiations with the two home-owners throughout the lead-up to the referendum and added he doesn’t see the end result of those talks leading to significant costs.
“I think both property owners are going to be willing to work with us,” he said. “We understand they have a personal vested interest they are trying to protect. I don’t believe either one are opposed to the multi-modal transportation corridor they just want some specific interests looked after. I don’t particularly see how there could be significant costs associated with that.”
The past six weeks or so in Lake Country featured plenty of lobbying efforts as a yes campaign and two no campaigns brought forward the positives and negatives that could be associated with the purchase. No campaigns pointed to unknown future costs of purchasing the corridor and the issues surrounding property owners who have lived with the rail line going through personal property for years.
Guy Bissonette said his group and the other no campaign brought forward legitimate issues and he hopes the concerns over future costs don’t come true. Bissonette added the true cost to Lake Country taxpayers is $5.1 million when you add in Kelowna’s investment in Lake Country’s portion of the corridor that the municipality has said they plan to eventually purchase back from Kelowna.
“When you have elections there is more than one race and more than one viewpoint,” said Bissonette. “I think we put the proper questions forward. Some of them were answered and some of them weren’t. We woke up this morning $5.1 million more in debt. We have two loans from two different sources. At the end of the day I hope they prove me wrong with my concerns about the cost over-runs.”
As for the yes campaign, Duane Thomson, who headed up the Lake Country Rail Trail Action Team said it’s time to move forward with beginning the fundraising work and added he appreciated all of the concerns raised in the community through the process.
“I think that many of the people who voted no were not necessarily opposed to developing the corridor into a rail trail. Many told us that they were supportive of the trail but did not appreciate the process (trying to get the issue through via the AAP).” said Thomson. “They were fearful that they were not getting the real story, and that negotiations were held behind closed doors, etc. Now that the community has spoken and once they realize that their fears were largely ill-founded, many of them will come on board. We are very respectful of those who voted no as many of them had legitimate concerns that must be considered.”
Once the deal with CN closes, the company will have one year to remove the ties and rails and bring the corridor up to a certain standard as laid out in the deal.
Another group will be formed from the jurisdictions involved to move forward with planning and fundraising.
“It will be a while before there is a whole lot of planing that might happen,” said Baker. “As we have said all along volunteers in the community are going to be the ones doing the raising of money. We are not doing anything other than making the acquisition.”