The province is taking another look at the appraisal used to evaluate the land it is offering the Westbank First Nation in a controversial land exchange.
The appraisal, done by a company hired by the WFN and then accepted by the province, has come under fire from the District of West Kelowna, which opposes the land swap because of concerns about the impact on nearby Rose Valley reservoir and the loss of land from Rose Valley Regional Park.
The appraisal puts the value of 698 acres around the north end of the reservoir at $5.9 million.
The District of West Kelowna says the real value is between $28 million and $42 million undeveloped and as much as $60 million when developed.
The province is proposing to exchange the land for eight acres it has already received from the WFN for the Westside Road overpass project That land is located at the construction site.
On Tuesday, Westside-Kelowna MLA Ben Stewart announced the review, saying it was prompted by public opposition and questions raised by West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater.
Up until last week, the negotiations were private, having been conducted behind closed doors. Stewart said despite Findlater’s demand that the government do so, it will not release any more details of the proposed land exchange.
“That just won’t happen,” he said.
On Monday, Findlater also demanded the province make the documents that the province based its evaluation of the land on, public. The government is refusing, saying that is up to the WFN because the appraisal was ordered by it, not Victoria.
Stewart said the government has no intention of making details of the exchange proposal with the WFN public because the negotiations are private and between the province and the self-governing WFN.
West Kelowna was asked to participate, he said, because its land sits adjacent to the Crown land proposed for the exchange.
At a news conference with Murray Tekano, district manager for the B.C. Ministry of Transportation, Stewart also revealed the WFN is getting an additional $8 million as part of the compensation for the eight acres of reserve land the province needed for the overpass project.
The WFN was awarded the contract to oversee construction of the $44-million overpass project last year.
The first phase of the work—the overpass—is expected to be complete in the fall.
The second phase, an underpass at nearby Highway 97 and Nancee Way will be completed by next fall.
The local MLA said parts of the land the government is looking at giving the WFN has slopes greater than 25 per cent, meaning it would be difficult, if not impossible to develop. But on Wednesday, Findlater disagreed.
Speaking on a local radio phone-in show, he said it could be done “if you have enough dynamite.”
He also said he did not know about the additional $8 million in compensation for the WFN until it was reported by the media Tuesday afternoon.
“That means we are on the right track in needing to see the (entire) deal,” said Findlater.
“Even the MLA (Stewart) has admitted he’s never seen (details of) the deal.”
Part of the mayor’s concern is that once the land in question is owned by the WFN, it will become reserve land and as such, will not be subject to rules other than those put in place by the WFN.
While he praised the WFN for what he called its good negotiating skills, Findlater criticized the province for being what he called poor negotiators who have not followed proper process.
Meanwhile, Stewart said public reaction from Westside residents to the land exchange controversy has rivaled public opposition to the HST in terms of the calls, e-mails and letters his office has received.