Lake Country mayor writes

James Baker defends council's decision to go to referendum on the rail corridor

Numerous letters have been published both for and against the decision of the District of Lake Country council to seek elector assent to borrow to purchase 50 per cent of the 16-kilometre of the CN rail corridor that is in our jurisdiction.

Council’s decision is unanimous, fiscally responsible, socially responsible and environmentally responsible. We see the purchase of this corridor as an investment and a long-term benefit for Lake Country.

We recognize that there are a number of constituents who have some concerns about our priorities and would rather not invest in our future at this time. Others have concerns that future costs for development and maintenance of the corridor are not being disclosed by the mayor and council. We made what we consider a prudent business decision based on our knowledge and experience and the expertise and advice of other jurisdictions who have gone through similar scenarios.

Rails to trails initiatives are a worldwide trend that many progressive communities have benefitted from greatly and we want Lake Country to be one of those communities.

The tax increase of $27 for the average Lake Country residence is based on a general tax requisition of $0.057 per $1,000 of assessment, $0.14 per thousand for commercial properties, which will make the annual payment for 20 years on the loan of $2.6 million for which we seek assent.

We have a memorandum of understanding with the City of Kelowna which allows for a three year, interest free opportunity to buy its 50 per cent interest of the corridor in Lake Country for $2.5 million.

Our assessment base will have increased in three years with the growth we see occurring now in our community, and there is certainly potential for more business to locate here because of new business opportunities generated by ownership of the rail corridor. In three years, we will be in a better position to determine if we wish to exercise our option to purchase Kelowna’s 50 per cent investment in Lake Country’s corridor.

We will continue our current level of taxes for our current level of services so there is no change in council priorities. Most of our long-term debt is for water and sewer improvement which is paid for from the user fees for those services. With long-term plans in place for all infrastructure upgrades we are well positioned to apply for provincial and federal grants as programs become available.

sWe have an excellent working relationship with our MLA Norm Letnick and our MP Ron Cannan, who have always provided strong support for our grant applications and we have every expectation that they will continue to do so. The rail corridor will become a public asset that can benefit not just Lake Country but will be an asset for the entire valley.

Mayor and council will not be the sole planners for the corridor. We do not have any hidden agendas or any agenda other than to acquire this valuable, wonderful, mostly lakeshore corridor. The entire community will be involved in the subsequent planning when the purchase is made. There will have to be considerable community consultation to identify lands that may be surplus to park and trail functions.

Development of a trail in the corridor can be funded by non‐government development grants and willing volunteers, as has been done in many other jurisdictions. The long-term operations and maintenance may be conducted as an interregional service or with a memorandum of understanding among the different jurisdictions. Maintenance would not be done solely by Lake Country. CN bought the corridor lands, it did not have the same type of grants that CP had from the federal government.

The Okanagan Indian Band has a long standing specific claim with the provincial and federal governments over the Commonage lands that were opened for non‐Native settlement in 1893. Current federal and provincial land claim settlement policy is for no impact to third‐party private property, which includes the CN rail corridor.

CN is responsible for the track and tie removal and remediation to all lands to meet current environmental standards. We will continue with due diligence to ensure safe use of this magnificent current and enduring asset for our community.

Acknowledging both the concerns and support expressed by some, we hope the majority of the residents of Lake Country see the value of acquiring and protecting the corridor for use as a public right-of-way that will benefit our community for generations.

James Baker, mayor

Lake Country