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Property owners along Shuswap rail trail retain legal counsel in effort to preserve dock access

Columbia Shuswap Regional District administrator challenges group’s motives
Shuswap property owners through a group called the BC Dock Owners Coalition, have asked to meet with the Columbia Shuswap Regional District to discuss concerns around the North Okanagan Shuswap Rail Trail and access to adjacent docks and buoys. (File Photo)

A coalition of property owners have retained legal counsel in an effort to preserve access to private docks and buoys adjacent to the North Okanagan Shuswap Rail Trail.

In an Oct. 27 letter (see below) addressed to the Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD), a group referring to itself as the BC Dock Owners Coalition (BCDOC) said they are concerned by “orders and pending orders” to remove docks within the regional district’s jurisdiction. The letter goes on to raise concern around the rail trail project, claiming its potential benefits “are being overshadowed by sustained jurisdictional overreach, interference with real property rights, and degradation of both land values and community cohesion.”

The letter notes the BCDOC has retained legal counsel as it endeavours to seek fair agreements for property owners adjacent to the rail trail along Mara Lake that will “preserve our docks and buoys, while also preserving the value of private lands, community economic development, and the very reputation of the Shuswap as a desirable place to live and visit.”

“Representative bodies have a responsibility to consult and take fully into account the concerns of residents, seeking healthy compromise,” reads the letter. “In this case, CSRD has failed to discharge its obligation to engage meaningfully with the 22 landowners on Mara Lake and all of those in the broader community who want a dock-friendly, backcountry- positive region.”

A Gofundme for the BCDOC refers to CSRD Lakes Zoning Bylaw No. 900 and “a draconian crossing agreement that allows the CSRD to remove semi-waterfront docks.” As of Tuesday, Nov. 2, the Gofundme had raised more than $121,000.

CSRD chief administrative officer Charles Hamilton didn’t mince words when asked about the letter. He referred to the language around dock removal as “inflammatory,” stating there has been no threat of dock removals. Overall, he referred to the letter as being one-sided and replete with misinformation.

Read more: Sicamous denied rail trail ownership

Read more: Regional district to assess resources going to Shuswap North Okanagan Rail Trail project

“What you have here is a few property owners that effectively want to see the privatization of public lands,” said Hamilton, referring to the rail trail property owned by the CSRD, Splatsin and Regional District of the North Okanagan. “As a government body, we have a public trust to ensure that those public lands are protected and safeguarded, and our interest in those lands are not diminished in any way, shape or form. We’re not in the position here to privatize lands for a private benefit.”

Hamilton concurred with the BCDOC that challenges around crossing agreements for properties adjacent to the trail along the waterfront have been ongoing for about two years. He explained previous arrangements were in place with CP Rail that provided property owners with upland consent and crossing agreements that allowed them “the privilege of installing a dock on the foreshore.” He said when the regional districts acquired the property, they also acquired the agreements.

“And we’ve indicated that we’d honour those agreements.”

Hamilton said agreements with expired terms are being replaced with new agreements reflecting the rail property’s current owners. He said a number of property owners have signed a new agreement, while others have indicated they’re waiting for additional information before signing, the delay in some cases having to do with encroachment issues.

“I’m quite happy to take this issue into the realm of public opinion, because I think we’re on the moral high ground here,” said Hamilton. “I don’t think 22 property owners that want to enhance their own private interests in public land should trump the interests of all the other residents and taxpayers that are paying into this service.”

Representatives of the BCDOC have requested a meeting with the CSRD.

At an October 2020 meeting of the Sicamous to Armstrong Rail Trail Corridor Governance Advisory Committee, the District of Sicamous proposed it take ownership of the 1.67 km portion of the rail trail that falls within district boundaries. This was after a petition was created by property owners who argued they hadn’t been properly consulted. Among their concerns was that the CSRD could remove upland owners’ docks. The petition asked the District of Sicamous to expropriate the rail trail property within its jurisdiction.

The proposal was not approved, with the committee instead voting to send a letter to property owners explaining their decision to uphold the trail crossing agreements in their current form.

In an October 2020 information bulletin explaining their decision, the RDNO, CSRD and Splatsin stated the present ownership structure is the most appropriate means to ensure equal treatment of all taxpaying citizens contributing to the rail trail. The bulletin noted that 40,090 taxable properties pay towards the rail trail project, while the complaints originated from from 22 properties.

With files by Jim Elliot, Eagle Valley News.

BC Dock Owners Coalition 1

BC Dock Owners Coalition 2

BC Dock Owners Coalition 3
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Lachlan Labere

About the Author: Lachlan Labere

Editor, Salmon Arm Observer
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