Rail opponents say provincial announcement an attempt to sway the Lake Country vote

Residents opposed to purchase of the CN Rail corridor question the timing of a provincial announcement on funding

Opponents of the attempted acquisition of the CN Rail corridor in Lake Country say the provincial government’s announcement to kick in $7.2 million dollars towards the rail purchase is just another attempt to sway a growing no-side in an upcoming referendum that could decide the fate of the proposed deal.

Several high profile residents have come forward in opposition to the rail purchase as word of official no campaigns start to filter out in Lake Country in advance of the April 25 referendum. Residents are being asked to approve a $2.6 million loan by the District of Lake Country, the final piece in a $22 million deal between Kelowna—also representing Lake Country and the North Okanagan Regional District—and CN Rail.

“It’s nothing new,” said Ron Volk, a retired long-time resident of Lake Country, who gathered several key residents together Tuesday morning to talk about their opposition to the deal. “We knew this was coming. They picked an opportune time to commit to it because they see what’s happening with the no side. They could have said it a long time ago, or closer to the vote, but they see what’s happening.”

What’s happening, according to Volk, is a strong push against the purchase of the rail corridor from residents concerned about future costs of the trail.

Among the latest residents to voice concern is a former councillor who sat for 12 years on Lake Country council until retiring last fall. Barbara Leamont says the people she has talked to are not only concerned about future costs associated with maintenance, policing and development of the rail corridor but also other issues in Lake Country such as roads, water and sewer. And she says the district has been less than forthcoming to the public, making it hard for people to make an informed decision.

“Whether you are for it or not I think for me it’s having factual information that people can actually sink their teeth into and look at and it’s not there,” said Leamont. “It’s not just the rail corridor people are looking at. They are looking at the big picture. There are so many things coming forward with increases in sewer fees, water rates, the transportation plan. It’s the unknown that has people concerned.”

While residents express concern about costs, Lake Country mayor James Baker says the district’s research into rail trails shows development and maintenance costs do not fall on local taxpayers. And he denies the district is withholding important information.

“We’re not trying to hide anything, there is no conspiracy other than we see this as a good investment that has the potential for considerable returns,” said Baker. “We’re not withholding anything it’s just that there are unknowns. But our research from other jurisdictions has shown (maintenance and development costs) doesn’t fall on the taxpayers. It’s either spread over a much wider constituency with the two regional districts involved or comes from grants.”

While Volk and Leamont are not members of an official no campaign, the former organizer of Lake Country’s classic car show said there are two official no-side campaigns that he has heard will be coming forward with information in the coming weeks as residents prepare to vote.

A yes campaign has already opened an office in Lake Country and is working on a phone campaign urging residents to vote in favour of the borrowing bylaw so the land can be purchased from CN.

A representative of the Lake Country Rail Trail Action Team says their phone polling is showing a close split in the yes and no sides.

The Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative, a Vernon-based volunteer group, has committed to raising $5 million towards trail maintenance and development and says there are many matching grants available to help offset future costs.

But Volk says people in Lake Country don’t believe that much money can be raised to avoid future costs falling to the taxpayers.

“I’ve lived in this community my whole life and people are laughing at that saying how ridiculous it is,” said Volk. “Anyone can say this kind of stuff but until you have the money in hand it means absolutely nothing. Their claim to raise that kind of money to upgrade the trail to a walking/biking trail is a fairy tale.”

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