A high profile, local government plan to purchase the CN Rail corridor between Kelowna and Coldstream for $22 million has been stopped in its tracks by less than 1,000 voters in Lake Country.
Officials in Kelowna, Lake Country and the North Okanagan Regional District (NORD) are going back to the drawing board after residents in Lake Country voted against a plan by the district to borrow money for its portion of a potential $22 million deal with CN.
An inter-jurisdictional acquisition team, being led by Kelowna, will meet Wednesday to discuss the implications of the no vote in Lake Country and what options exist to keep the deal alive.
A total of 960 Lake Country residents voted against the district’s plans to borrow $2.6 million to help with its portion of the deal, just 29 votes more than the 931 (10 per cent of population) needed to stop the borrowing bylaw, under the alternative approval process.
“It’s very disappointing because we thought people understood the benefits to the community,” said Lake Country Mayor James Baker. “Obviously the no-side got out there with the information or mis-information or scare tactics to the point that 960 people signed up against it.”
Lake Country council is holding a special meeting on Tuesday to accept the results of the AAP and refer the issue back to staff as well as the inter-jurisdictional team that negotiated a deal in principle with CN Rail to purchase the 47 kilometre line.
The parties had until March 31 to remove conditions to the tentative deal but Baker said he hopes that they can get an extension to allow for the deal to still go ahead.
“If we lose the opportunity now there is no way of reviving that opportunity,” said Baker. “I think that’s a big negative for Lake Country. We will see if we have some options to try and continue on with the purchase so we don’t lose out on this opportunity that won’t come again.”
Of the $22 million, Kelowna was on the hook for $7 million and NORD just under $2 million with both jurisdictions able to afford the price out of financial reserves. Only Lake Country needed to raise the money from scratch. As part of Lake Country’s $5 million total in the tentative deal, Kelowna was going to purchase a portion of the corridor through Lake Country for $2.5 million with Lake Country paying it back over time.
It’s unknown at this time if that is still on the table but Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran said he thinks the majority of the public are in favour of the deal.
“We are disappointed because I believe Lake Country residents and all area residents believe this is a good project and something worth getting behind,” said Basran. “I’m optimistic Lake Country will come up with a viable alternative in order to make the project go ahead.”
Lake Country resident Roger Bailey was one person who voted against the AAP and said there was just not enough information available to the public and no opportunity for the public to provide input on the potential purchase.
“I guess that’s a message to council that when they want to do something they have to be a little more communicative,” said Bailey. “I went to the open houses with respect to the process and that was the first time the public was invited to be a part of it and it wasn’t for any input, it was just to tell us what they were doing. I didn’t like that. They have grandiose plans for the future that never seem to take into account the locals.”