After months of anticipation, Blair Lekstrom, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, made his way to Council Chambers to meet with the District of West Kelowna council.
Lekstrom opened the discussion by stating that he has heard the concerns from the public loud and clear.
“This is has been a significant issue,” said Lekstrom.
“Concern for the watershed and the park seem to be the two major issues that people have talked to me about. ”
He said that WFN shares those same concerns.
“Having discussions with WFN, their values and stewardship (are) very similar to ours, if not greater.”
Lekstrom stated that the land swap is not a done deal and explained the stage the deal is currently in.
“We are, today, at a point where we have gone through and listened, not only to yourselves but (also) the public concerns.
“We have put together a document that we have forwarded to Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) who ultimately make the decision whether this land is suitable for transfer or not.”
According to Lekstrom, the document reflects 21 different users of the land base.
FLNRO’s decision of whether or not the land is suitable for transfer does not have to be a a simple yes or no.
“They can come back with encumbrances. They can come back to say ‘this parcel may be suitable, but this one isn’t.’ At the end of the day, we will find a way that this is going to work for the people of West Kelowna.”
Coun. Duane Ophus asked if the district would be able to get a copy of the document submitted to FLNRO; Lekstrom agreed to share that document with the DWK.
“It’s in their hands right now. I need them to do their work on it first, but certainly, I’ll tell you today, I will make it available to you,” said Lekstrom.
“We put a lot of things in that report to FLNRO that share the concerns of yourselves and the people of West Kelowna.”
Ophus said that he felt something was missing with the process of exchanging lands.
“The problem comes back to what our initial reaction was when we first saw these lands proposed to be set aside and that is that we were the people who actually knew anything about these lands. It’s clear to me, in retrospect, that the Province knew nothing about these lands and about the sensitivity around these lands,” said Ophus.
“You don’t know anything about these lands, so if you’re putting them on the table without having first discussed them with us, I think you’re going to be taken advantage of again.
“Are you prepared to confirm to us that you will consult with West Kelowna in the future before any lands within West Kelowna are put on the table for any of these kinds of deals?”
Lekstrom said that he won’t change the process; however, he will try to ensure that it is properly followed and better understood.
Coun. Carol Zanon challenged Lekstrom’s suggestion that the Province will make a deal that will work for West Kelowna.
“What is in this deal for West Kelowna?” she asked.
“I’m seeing some incredible corridor improvements. In my eyes I see them as a benefit to the travelling public,” said Lekstrom.
According to Lekstrom, in the future there needs to be better communication. He said that he hopes to not be in this situation again.
The meeting ended with Findlater thanking Lekstrom for coming.
“I think it’s amazing that you came,” said Findlater.