Rail corridor Yes campaign ramping up for referendum

Proponents of the acquisition of the CN Rail corridor are getting set to push for a yes vote in April 25 referendum

Proponents of the acquisition of the CN Rail corridor in Lake Country aren’t leaving anything to chance in advance of a referendum that will ask residents whether the district can borrow $2.6 million to go towards the purchase of the rail corridor between Kelowna and Coldstream.

A vote yes campaign is gathering steam in Lake Country as a group of residents has formed a committee, is opening a bank account and an office and hiring an administrator to work towards getting the referendum passed and allowing the district to take part in the purchase of the corridor along with Kelowna and the North Okanagan Regional District.

“If this fails it will be the biggest travesty I can think of,” said group organizer Duane Thompson. “It will be an opportunity lost that will never come again. We have the chance to transform the community. If this fails, I would never forgive myself if I didn’t step up to the plate and push this very hard.”

Thompson, who was raised in Lake Country, spent most of his life in the Okanagan Valley and has now been back in Lake Country for close to 20 years, says part of the groups mission is to make sure there is accurate information out in the community. Thompson says a small group of individuals has formed to push the yes side in the referendum. He said there has been confusion as to the specific costs of the purchase, who is responsible for maintaining the corridor and the plan for Lake Country to pay back Kelowna’s investment of a further $2.6 millionĀ  for the Lake Country corridor.

“The first job is to get the message straight,” he said. “There has been some confusion about what is happening and I think some of the confusion has been deliberately stirred up. The no campaign came in in the last two weeks (of the AAP) and took us by surprise so we are taking this very seriously.”

Thompson said the group is in the process of finalizing its office and will also have a web site up and running to provide information to the public.

Meanwhile the District of Lake Country has now announced it will hold advance polls in each of the district’s four wards prior to the April 25 referendum. Voters in Okanagan Centre, Carr’s Landing, Oyama and Winfield will be able to vote before the referendum if they can’t make it out on April 25.

The Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative, who released an economic impact assessment on turning the corridor into a trail well before the negotiations on the deal, is also ramping up its campaign to help people see the benefits of a transportation corridor between Kelowna and Vernon.

The group commissioned an assessment that found by year five, a potential trail would drum up $6.5 million in economic spinoffs. Rail trail director Brad Clements said the study was nearly forgotten since the tentative deal between CN and the inter-jurisdictional team was announced.

“What we noticed in the last discussions (in the community) was that none of that (economic benefits) came up, it was all about the cost,” said Clements. “We believe this is a good thing for a number of reasons. We’re not going to engage in the yes campaign but we want to make sure all communities are making decisions based on a balanced, thoughtful approach.”

Clements said the group will re-work its web site to provide better access to the economic assessment.