Lake Country residents in favour of purchasing the CN Rail corridor in their community may not have had their say in the district’s failed alternative approval process, but they have been flooding Lake Country municipal hall this week, pledging support for the acquisition.
Lake Country mayor James Baker is convinced by the reaction of the public that residents would approve the district’s attempts to purchase part of the rail corridor, if they are given the chance in a referendum question on the matter.
“We’ve had an overwhelming outpouring of people who are shocked and dismayed it didn’t go through,” said Baker this week of the e-mails and phone calls the district has received. “They don’t understand why even 960 people would be against it . But there was a pretty concerted effort to make it unpalatable in the end by the (no) group going around. It only took 10 per cent and they got that by going after people and asking if they want to pay more taxes. But if you think about what they said no to, it was no vision, no future, no potential for a great community asset.”
Baker said the district went to the alternative approval process as opposed to a referendum for a few reasons. He said Lake Country didn’t believe there would be much opposition to the plan, which only proposed about a 1.68 per cent tax hike for 20 years. The AAP also came with no cost as opposed to between $10,000 and $15,000 to hold a referendum. And the timing to hold a referendum also didn’t work to get an answer before a potential deal between the municipalities and CN Rail is supposed to close, on March 31.
But now Baker says it’s incumbent on CN to allow for an extension of the closing date for the district to hold a referendum and allow everyone in the community a chance to vote.
“A referendum is really our only option so if CN is serious about trying to help communities,” they will allow the extension, he said. “If they think they could get more by selling it piece-meal that might be their strategy. We’re waiting to hear if we can have an extension. I’m hopeful because this is a major milestone in Lake Country’s future.”
It’s expected the earliest a referendum could be held in Lake Country is early May.
Baker also said allowing Kelowna to purchase the entirety of the line through Lake Country is not an option he would like to see. Under the proposed deal, Kelowna was going to purchase about half of the line for $2.6 million and allow the district to pay it back over time. Baker says Lake Country must own the corridor that runs through its boundaries.
“We certainly don’t want 16 kilometres of our community owned by Kelowna so we have to figure out some way of getting this done,” said Baker. “I think the possibility is still there.”