Through five days of advance polling, more Lake Country residents have already cast ballots in the CN Rail corridor referendum than voted in the entire 2014 municipal election.
The last of five advance polling opportunities is being held Tuesday (until 8 p.m.) at Lake Country municipal hall while residents in each of the four wards in Lake Country had the opportunity to vote prior to the April 25 general voting day, asking residents to approve borrowing $2.6 million to purchase the old CN Rail corridor in Lake Country.
Close to 2,300 residents have voted in the referendum so far out of about 9,300 registered voters in Lake Country, more than the 24 per cent that voted in last year’s election with general voting day still to take place this Saturday.
The 2014 municipal election saw 2,219 votes cast overall, one of the lowest voter turnouts in the Okanagan Vallley.
“I think it’s great,” said Lake Country mayor James Baker. “It certainly means people are very involved and wanting to make sure they get a chance to vote. It shows there is a lot of interest in what we are doing. I’m hopeful a lot of them are seeing it as a positive addition to our assets.”
Among the residents to take advantage of the advance polls was one of Lake Country’s most senior residents as 100-year-old Anne Land cast her ballot on Monday.
“She appreciated being able to vote close to her home in Okanagan Centre, but said she would have gone miles to vote in this referendum,” said chief election officer Reyna Seabrook.
The attempted purchase of the CN Rail corridor has been divisive in Lake Country. Two opposing no-side groups have formed and have been mailing out information to residents while a yes campaign has held two public events to spread information.
Lake Country is hoping to join an inter-jurisdictional team led by Kelowna to purchase the 47-kilometre long CN Rail corridor for a total of $22 million. The community is the only jurisdiction that didn’t have enough money in reserves to fund the acquisition To try and help make it happen, the City of Kelowna will purchase part of the rail-line in Lake Country for $2.5 million on top of its $7.6 million share and is funding it out of financial reserves while the North Okanagan Regional District’s $1.9 million is also coming from reserves. The province has kicked in $7.2 million.
Lake Country residents opposed say there are too many future costs associated for the municipality which is struggling with aging roads and other infrastructure needs while the district says borrowing $2.6 million will not affect plans to deal with the infrastructure.
Much of the opposition has come from landowners, some of which have the CN corridor passing as close as a couple of feet from their homes while two individual home-owners in Oyama hold the first-right-of refusal to purchase the corridor on their land.
“Citizens have concerns and we have the right to be concerned,” said Roger Bailey of the group No To Being Railroaded. “We are trying to get our point across but we are just told we are assholes and are wrecking the community. They are just pushing our concerns aside instead of asking us what our concerns are. To put tourists ahead of your general constituency…that’s a serious breach.”
At the City of Kelowna, Doug Gilchrist is the director of community planning and the head of the acquisition team. He says should the purchase be able to go ahead, the team will work with landowners to mitigate their concerns.
“If the referendum is positive and things are worked out with the Okanagan Indian Band challenge (see story), then we will complete the deal, take title and continue to work with (the landowners),” said Gilcrhist. “We’re not going to roll through any of those people that have concerns. We have said all along that we are intending to work with everyone. To understand their needs and interests. There are ways to work with them if they have individual issues on their property.”