West Kelowna: Ministry, Westbank First Nation discuss alternate lands for exchange

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure announced Friday that it is considering an alternative to the 698 acre land swap proposal.

Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure

Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure

Months of voicing frustration may have paid off for the District of West Kelowna council and some of its residents.

On Friday morning, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure announced that it has been involved in discussions with Westbank First Nation to find lands—other than those originally identified in the Bear Creek/Rose Valley area—suitable for exchange.

The ministry is required to provide WFN with lands of equal or greater value to the eight acres it acquired in the construction of the Westside Road Interchange.

Initially, the province proposed that 698 acres of Crown land around Rose Valley reservoir be transferred to WFN in exchange for eight.

In its released statement, the ministry mentioned that it recognizes the significant concerns expressed by area residents and other stakeholders specific to watershed and park protection.

“I have heard firsthand the concerns of West Kelowna residents and I am encouraged by the willingness of Westbank First Nation to explore other options,” said Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Blair Lekstrom.

Mayor Doug Findlater said he is “cautious” about the announcement; however, this might be good news for the Westside.

“If they are serious about not impacting our watershed, about looking somewhere else that wouldn’t impact a drinking water reservoir, I’m pleased with that,” said Findlater.

The mayor said that steps should be taken to ensure this type debacle doesn’t happen again.

“The lesson learned in the last iteration was that the ministry should be consulting, at a very early stage, with the local government in place.

“When this deal was made—and we believe it was prior to incorporation in 2006 or 2007—the Regional District was our local government. But they knew nothing about it, and as a new municipality, we were never notified until quite some time after.”

Findlater noted, to this point, the district hasn’t been consulted in the newest discussions on appropriate lands for the swap.

“I would hope that anything they do has no impact on the District of West Kelowna infrastructure.”

Westside-Kelowna MLA Ben Stewart said he is very pleased with this shift in focus.

“I am confident that through continued dialogue and exploration, we will find a land exchange solution that works for the province, Westbank First Nation and local residents.

The 698 acre portion of Crown land was identified by WFN in 2009 as potential replacement lands. The four parcels that make up the 698 acres are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO).

Since the lands were identified, the ministry has been engaging with individuals and organizations impacted by the proposed land transfer. Information from those consultations was incorporated into a detailed submission made to FLNRO in late November, 2011.

On Friday, the ministry made a copy of that submission available at: www.th.gov.bc.ca/publications/reports_and_studies/exchange_land_report.pdf.

Findlater said that this is a story that has yet to be finished, and he’ll be keeping a close eye to see how it plays out.

“This has been quite a game of snakes and ladders, ups and downs all along. We have a little bit of an up right now for West Kelowna, but we’ll see how it turns out.”

wpaterson@kelownacapnews.com

Kelowna Capital News