BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Vernon is on track

The City of Vernon was at the table during the purchase of the rail corridor

While at last week’s Okanagan Rail Trail open house in Coldstream, it was brought to my attention that Vernon isn’t listed as a participant in the process.

And if you look at any press releases or fact sheets, Kelowna, Lake Country and the Regional District of North Okanagan are named as the inter-jurisdictional team that purchased the corridor, but Vernon is nowhere to be found.

Now the basic answer is the identified jurisdictions are the organizations that physically cut cheques for the land deal and will own the trail.

But of course, nothing is ever straight forward when Greater Vernon governance is involved.

The local money to actually acquire the corridor came through the Greater Vernon Advisory Committee, but because RDNO is the parent body, it is the regional district that ultimately signed off on the deal and gets the public profile.

Now as most know, GVAC consists of Vernon, Coldstream and Areas B and C. They pool together cash on water, culture and parks.

Many years ago, Greater Vernon residents voted to borrow $7 million for parkland acquisitions and since then, the account has been dipped into when a property of interest comes on to the market.

When Canadian National ended rail traffic, communities in the Okanagan Valley banded together to investigate retaining the 49.5-kilometre track as a public asset.

At the GVAC table, there was a lot of debate about the possible purchase, particularly because the corridor only goes through Coldstream and Area B, and not Vernon or Area C. But a decision was made that the project was regionally significant and part of the remaining borrowed $7 million would help with the cost.

Based on how much of the corridor is within RDNO boundaries, GVAC directed $1.9 million towards the total $22 million price tag.

Now as mentioned before, there is always more to Greater Vernon governance than first meets the eye.

The reality is that Vernon, because of its significantly larger population base, not only has the most political representation at the table, it also has the largest cheque book.

Vernon’s share of the service that funded the rail trail purchase is 68.4 per cent, so about $1.3 million of the $1.9 million is directly attributable to the city.

Now, should $1.3 million guarantee the city is mentioned as a funding partner? Perhaps. But any time a property is purchased by GVAC, such as the former Camp Hurlburt or Swan Lake wetlands, it comes under the umbrella of RDNO, which GVAC legislatively can’t exist without.

However, the regional district could have done more to make the public clearly aware of where the money came from, and that credit be given to elected officials in Vernon, Coldstream and the electoral areas for their vision.

In the end, whether it is mentioned on a press release or not, the City of Vernon was actively at the table and that’s what counts.