Gatzke Orchard owner says despite questions, yes vote is needed in rail referendum

Allan Gatzke held meeting at his Oyama business last week, says the time is right to acquire CN Rail corridor

Allan Gatzke can clearly see both sides of the upcoming referendum question on the acquisition of the CN Rail corridor through Lake Country.

As a property owner that has the rail corridor running through a stretch of a family-owned orchard, Gatzke says a yes vote in the referendum will see the multi-million dollar lake-front property decrease in value by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But the long-time Oyama resident and former Lake Country councillor says he is in favour of the acquisition of the rail corridor because it will provide a needed boost for Oyama and for Lake Country, as it looks to continue to grow as a tourism destination.

“From our family’s perspective it’s a negative,” said Gatzke on Monday. “Having that land as private is a lot more marketable. But our whole family is still in favour (of acquiring the corridor) because of the impact it can have. We’ve come through many, many years of a slow decline in terms of economic activity but this offer is something solid and an investment in the future. I think there is an opportunity to turn around that trend with some concrete investment.”

Last week Gatzke hosted a meeting at his orchard cafe where about 50 people turned out to express their views on the upcoming referendum question, set for April 25 in Lake Country. He said it started out as meeting a few people to talk about the issue, but word quickly spread and soon they had to move the location to the cafe to accommodate more people.

Gatzke said about 90 per cent of those in attendance were in support of the acquisition and said those who are against purchasing the rail corridor are like his family: Property owners directly affected by the acquisition who have the rail corridor going through their property that could be open to tourists in the future.

There are also questions about future costs of the rail corridor.

“The biggest issue that the no voters have with this process is a result of a lack of trust that they have with municipal hall,” he said. “The second biggest issue is around the Indian reserve and what is going to happen around the central part of Kalamalka Lake.”

At this point the Okanagan Indian Band has gone on record as not supporting the acquisition of the rail corridor as the rail right of way travels through its traditional territory known as the commonage reserve.

But Gatzke says despite the unknowns, he believes voting yes to allow for the acquisition of the rail corridor is the right thing to do.

“For the businesses that are here, we are primarily tourist-oriented and that’s a really important thing for the rail trail,” he said. “We are ready for it. It doesn’t take long to look around Oyama and you see more empty orchards than full ones. For the Okanagan Valley in general this is the right type of investment long term because it gets us going in the right direction.”