Lake Country council expressed disappointment but also pride in its community, at a special meeting of council Tuesday, just hours after it was announced that an alternative approval process to borrow money for the purchase of the CN Rail corridor had failed.
Over 10 per cent of Lake Country residents were against the move with 960 no votes, a further 108 rejected forms and seven that were returned after the deadline. It all meant the AAP failed and Lake Country could not borrow $2.6 million to go towards the purchase of the CN Rail corridor running through its borders.
It also put the tentative deal in a precarious position, with less than a month before it was supposed to close.
“I think what’s important is the continuation of trying to attain the railroad for our future,” said Coun. Bill Scarrow. “I’m not that disappointed that the reverse process was unsuccessful. As a matter of fact that excites me about our community. At least we have a community that is paying attention. I believe we should have a referendum so each individual taxpayer of our community can express their opinion.”
The AAP only asked residents to approve borrowing the money, and was not a question about the actual acquisition of the rail corridor, some 17 kilometres that pass through Lake Country.
The deal could still go ahead although it’s now up in the air, with the inter-jurisdictional acquisition team set to meet on Wednesday in Kelowna.
Despite the no vote Lake Country councillors remained confident a majority of the community were in fact in favour of the project and were determined to push forward.
“I’m happy to see the community is engaged. This is a hot topic,” said Coun. Rob Geier. “I’m happy there were enough people to voice their opinion but I think, on the other hand, there is a majority of people that want to see this pass. This is something we have to pursue. There are other avenues. Maybe this was necessary. Maybe there are other alternatives that we need to look at.”
The deal is primarily between CN Rail and the City of Kelowna, with Lake Country and the North Okanagan Regional District as partners. But talks on the issue are led by Kelowna and the city even pledged to purchase $2.5 million of the rail corridor for Lake Country, with a generous plan and no timetable to pay-back, something Lake Country mayor James Baker has called unprecedented.
Having a referendum on the issue is not a certainty. Under law, a referendum after a failed AAP must take place within 80 days, putting May 9 as the latest a vote could be held.
Due diligence on the agreed upon $22 million purchase was supposed to be complete by Mar. 31 so an extension would likely be needed to pull off a referendum in Lake Country, due to legal guidelines for advertising the referendum question and the time to set up the vote.
“At this point we do not know (if a referendum is possible),” said Lake Country administrator Alberto De Feo. “This is something that has to be discussed with the three partners. The relationship between CN and the purchasing group is through the City of Kelowna. We have to meet with them first and find out what kind of strategy and discussions we have to bring up with CN at this point.”
While the AAP had virtually no cost to the district, it’s estimated a referendum question would cost $10,000.