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Shuswap North Okanagan Rail Trail partners dismiss ‘smear tactics’ around project

Partners behind the Shuswap North Okanagan Rail Trail are speaking out against what they say is misinformation being spread by a group of Shuswap property owners.

On Dec. 3, rail trail partners the Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD), the Regional District of the Okanagan (RDNO) and the Splatsin responded to information recently circulated by a group calling itself the BC Dock Owners Coalition.

On Nov. 23, the coalition issued a media release claiming a commuter train mega-project is planned for the publicly owned rail trail. According to the coalition, the CSRD plans to “…rebuild the old CP railway along the western shore of Mara Lake in the District of Sicamous. There will ultimately be no ‘linear park’ for the walking, hiking, and biking enjoyment of residents. Instead, a new railway will stand in its place.”

The coalition cited an updated licence and upland consent agreement between the CSRD and upland property owners as reason for their claim.

The Nov. 23 media release was submitted to the Observer by Taleesha Thorogood, a senior business advisor with the law firm Fasken Martineau DuMoulin. In a previous media release, the coalition explained it had engaged Fasken “to represent us in efforts to preserve our docks and buoys.”

The CSRD, RDNO and Splatsin dismiss the coalition as a “select few adjacent property owners” attempting to undermine the integrity of the trail development process.

“This is a project that has created much excitement in the region because our taxpayers see the genuine benefit to residents and visitors alike,” commented RDNO chair Kevin Acton. “To have a group of non-waterfront property owners try to misrepresent the intentions of this project and make such baseless claims is very disappointing.”

Regarding the upland consent and crossing agreements, the rail trail partners say the new agreements are virtually identical to those previously made between the approximately 22 owners of properties along the rail trail and CP Rail, still giving the property owners access to private docks.

Read more: Columbia Shuswap Regional District dismisses claim it plans to bring rails back to rail trail

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

According to the Dec. 3 release, agreements with CP Rail allowed for a cancellation of access to private docks with 30-days’ notice. The proposed agreement with the CSRD and RDNO already made concessions to these property owners, including requiring 90-days’ notice before any termination of the agreement.

“These are lands owned by the taxpayers and we will not enter into agreements giving these owners absolute permission to have a dock forever,” commented CSRD chair Kevin Flynn. “CP Rail would not give up that right before, and we won’t give in to high-priced pressure or smear tactics from this select group either. Protecting the public interest in the rail trail is paramount.”

Flynn stressed there is no commuter train project in the works.

RDNO and the CSRD completed the purchase of the former CP Rail corridor from Sicamous to Armstrong (excluding portions owned by Splatsin) in early 2018. According to the release, the three local government bodies came together with the shared goal of a “contiguous recreational and transportation corridor as an economic driver for the participating communities”, and remain united in their vision for a recreational trail that will be a “world-class attraction, serving more than 136,000 residents and potentially attracting millions of visitors.”

“We know there is excitement in our communities and among our residents for this project to become a reality that will support regional economic growth,” commented Kukpi7 (Chief) Wayne Christian of Splatsin te Secwepemc. “The Rail Trail is on unceded Secwepemc title lands, this fact needs to be acknowledged.”

The three ownership partners recently received notification from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure of a successful $500,000 grant application, which will be leveraged with funding from the CSRD and District of Sicamous to develop a 19.8 km section of the rail trail from Sicamous to Mara. In addition, the partners received funding from the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association and the B.C. government to complete a test section within the areas adjacent to Splatsin through the City of Enderby.

With files by Zachary Roman.


lachlan@saobserver.net
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Lachlan Labere

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