Agreement to purchase rail line on track

There’s a deal to buy an abandoned chunk of rail line, but there’s still considerable uncertainty

There’s a deal to buy an abandoned chunk of rail line, but there’s still considerable uncertainty.

A coalition of jurisdictions, including the Regional District of North Okanagan and Lake Country, have agreed to purchase a 47.5-kilometre  corridor between Coldstream and Kelowna from Canadian National. The negotiated price is $22 million.

“The funding still has to be finalized,” said David Sewell, RDNO chief administrative officer.

During a 120-day due diligence process to lift conditions, the jurisdictions will determine how much each will provide for the purchase. It’s anticipated Kelowna will pick up a majority of the cost.

There is also the hope that the provincial government will come to the table with funds.

“We are trying to generate other grants,” said Sewell.

Presently, RDNO’s funds will come from the Greater Vernon Advisory Committee but other communities may be approached to participate.

Also complicating matters is that while some of the jurisdictions have funds in place already, Lake Country must seek public approval to borrow its financial contribution.

It’s anticipated that an alternate approval process  would be held during the 120 days. Through an AAP, if 10 per cent of voters sign a petition in opposition, borrowing cannot proceed.

“We do have a lot of people supporting it but there are others who say we shouldn’t be spending money on a specific recreational activity,” said James Baker, Lake Country mayor.

The other potential complication for acquiring the rail corridor is the fact that 2.5 kilometres go through the Okanagan Indian Band’s Duck Lake reserve. It is not part of the deal.

“We have to look at what we intend to do with the rail bed,” said Chief Byron Louis.

“We have to consult with our membership. The rail trail may make sense for municipalities but it may not fit into our needs.”

A portion of the track along Kalamalka Lake is also part of the band’s Commonage land claim.

Participants in the process welcome the purchase agreement with CN.

“What we wanted was a continuous corridor and I am pleased we’ve been able to do it,” said Jim Garlick, Coldstream mayor.

“It’s a decision you make now for the future,” added Juliette Cunningham, a Vernon councillor.

However, Bob Fleming, an RDNO director, admits that the potential purchase is just the start of the process,

“The railway has to salvage the rails and the signals. Any discussion about how it (corridor) will be used still requires a lot of work,” he said, adding that possible uses are a commuter rail service or a recreational trail.

Lobbying for a recreational corridor has come from the Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative.

“We need to recognize that municipalities and CN have worked hard at negotiating to find a solution that works for everybody,” said Brad Clements, rail trail spokesperson.

“This is the major first step in securing an incredible asset that will be a benefit to the community for our lifetime. The next phase will be supporting municipalities to build the trail.”