To the editor:
Residents are receiving mail-outs from groups lobbying both in favour and against borrowing for acquisition of the rail corridor and I hope that recipients will ensure they are making an informed decision on the referendum with accurate and credible information.
For the record I wish to respond to some of the misleading and erroneous statements being made.
• Costs for removal and salvage of the railway tracks and ties and remediation to provincial regulations will be borne entirely by CN. Council has taken the position from the beginning that remediation costs will not be done at local tax payers’ expense and that stipulation was included as part of the sales and purchase agreement with CN.
• The District can carry this loan payment without changing priorities for infrastructure upgrades. As a part of our asset audit and management planning we have identified infrastructure valued at $160 million that is in various stages of depreciation. The water master plan addresses the priority projects and how to implement them, a wastewater plan is almost completed to address sewer and environmental concerns with budgets based on user fees. The Transportation for Tomorrow plan will soon be completed and the rail corridor purchase could be a beneficial addition to that plan. Council continues to aim for sustainable projects within our modest annual budgets.
• The CN land will be transferred in fee simple. There will be various encumbrances on the land, as there are on most fee simple properties in the province for things such as utility rights of way, crossing agreements, etc.; however, none of these will impact the proposed ultimate use of the corridor.
• There are two small properties that have a right of first refusal with CN who the Inter-jurisdictional Acquisition Team continues to work with to ensure corridor continuity and who wish to keep their negotiations confidential at this time.
• We recognize and respect the traditional territory of the Okanagan Nations and understand that the band has an interest in a portion of the railway corridor west of Kalamalka Lake. This is a land claim issue between the OKIB and senior levels of government.
• Since the land is not owned by the District or the other municipalities, designs for the corridor have not been prepared or finalized, therefore the budget is unknown. As one of the fastest growing communities in B.C., the Lake Country of today may look very different from Lake Country in 20 years and priorities, including budget priorities, change over time.
• We know from other models that there may be options, other than taxation, for funding development and maintenance of corridors like this including stimulus funding, government grant programs, fundraising and foundation contributions, and we will be exploring those.
Today the only cost to taxpayers is for borrowing to acquire and protect a 50 per cent share of the rail corridor through our jurisdiction and Lake Country Council can state that is all that is being asked for.
The District of Lake Country sees the value of protecting the corridor for use as a public right of way that will potentially benefit residents of Lake Country for generations, but current residents must also agree and vote in favour of borrowing for the acquisition.
We need to have a vision for the long term; and the future of our community will be greatly enhanced by the local control of the corridor within our jurisdiction. Our control of the corridor is a wise investment fiscally, socially and environmentally. The three major factors that make Lake Country a great place to live.
James Baker, Mayor