Despite fears expressed by West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater, B.C. Conservative leader John Cummins and several others that the land swap between the province and Westbank First Nation may be a done deal, Westside-Kelowna MLA Ben Stewart says that’s not the case.
“It’s not a done deal until the Minister of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations agrees that we can protect the land and all the people who have land-use tenure on the land,” said Stewart.
“Secondly, the people that are part of the agreement—transportation and Westbank First Nation—have to agree to all of those conditions. If they agree to everything, then we would have an agreement that would be fulfilled.
“All that’s happened is a process has been triggered. Until that’s complete, it’s not done, meaning that the consultation is the most important part to see that all of the protection and interests are satisfied before any type of land exchange can occur.”
The proposed land swap would see the province hand over a 698-acre parcel of Crown land in exchange for eight acres of land used in the development of the Westside Road interchange.
According to Stewart, a tentative date of Dec. 13, 2011, has been set for Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Blair Lekstrom to meet with West Kelowna council. “There’s a lot to happen before that in terms of what’s going to happen at that meeting. I’m hopeful that we will have been able to articulate what’s happening with the land exchange prior to that.”
On Saturday, Stewart met with a few members of the Westside Residents and Business Association to discuss their frustrations with the land swap.
The members agreed that the meeting was informative; however, they weren’t completely reassured.
Mary Mandarino, a founding member of the WRBA, said that there are five main concerns associated with the land swap.
“We have a situation where there are five aspects to it: Lakeview Irrigation District’s heritage, we have a regional park, we have gravel, we have timber and we have a watershed that affects a newly incorporated district that is trying to establish itself and move ahead,” Mandarino said.
WRBA members agreed that they were irritated with the lack of details surrounding the land swap.
“The devil is in the details,” said Bob Lind of the WRBA.
“I don’t care what sort of assessed values you put on the two properties, it’s blatantly an unfair trade and you’re going to withdraw 700 acres from the jurisdiction of the province, the District of West Kelowna and, I believe, the government of Canada.”
Regardless of the outcome of the land swap, Stewart said that the whole issue has put some strain on relationships.
“I wish it hadn’t come out this way. I think we would have been far further ahead if we had been looking at this around a negotiating table rather than sending letters off,” said Stewart. “I think it’s hurt the trust level between two local governments.”
He said that the issue hasn’t helped his own image either.
“It certainly hasn’t helped the way people see me in the community. I’m seen to be taking sides; I’m not trying to take sides.
“I’m telling people that they have to wait for the process. Because of the way the agreement is structured, we have to complete the process and find out if we can provide the protection.”