Yes and no sides ramp up with less than two weeks to CN corridor referendum

As the vote gets closer, lots of eyes on Lake Country as it looks to secure final piece of puzzle to acquire CN Rail corridor

Officials with the City of Kelowna say there is no back-up plan to find more money and purchase the CN Rail corridor, should the April 25 referendum in Lake Country fail.

With less than two weeks to go before Lake Country residents cast ballots on whether to allow the district to borrow $2.6 million, completing the final part of a tentative $22-million deal with CN Rail, the lead negotiator with the inter-jurisdictional team says securing the corridor is increasingly sitting with residents of Lake Country.

“It’s a very important piece of the puzzle and we’re hopeful the right decision is made,” said Doug Gilchrist, the City of Kelowna’s director of community planning and real estate. “There is no other funding plan. The plan is for Lake Country to secure their portion of the money.”

Gilchrist said if the referendum fails, the group would be $2.6 million dollar short of the amount needed to purchase the trail. He added a provincial government financial commitment of $7.2 million is not dependent on the referendum passing, despite government wording in its announcement that said the money was contingent on a yes vote in Lake Country’s referendum.

“We’ve had further communications with the province,” said Gilchrist, noting they have said the money will be available even with a no vote, but they won’t be providing more funding for the purchase. “The provincial contribution is maxed. If there is a funding gap,” more money wouldn’t be coming from the province, according to Gilchrist.

As more and more eyes are watching Lake Country, with the referendum approaching, two official campaigns are now pushing the no-side while the yes campaign held the first of two public open houses this week, hosting an information session on Monday night at George Elliot School as well as planning a rally at Beasley Park coming up on Sunday.

Trust appears to be one of the main issues of the no campaigns as residents question whether they are being given the entire story by the District of Lake Country.

“We don’t think costs will be kept as low as they are saying,” said Oyama resident Roger Bailey. “There is nothing very clear and the district had the ability when the AAP failed to call a couple public meetings and get some input. But instead they moved to the earliest possible date for the referendum with no public meetings again and that is a little suspicious. Why are we getting pushed into this as Lake Country residents?”

Some former members of council have jumped into the debate on both sides of the issue as residents raise concern about things like future infrastructure projects, development and maintenance costs of the trail as well as privacy issues with the corridor.

Long-time resident and former Lake Country Calendar owner Jack McCarthy says council has come up short when it comes to giving residents confidence purchasing the corridor is the right move.

“I think the first vote (AAP) proved council has lost the confidence of the community,” said McCarthy, whose family was one of the original homesteaders in the Lake Country area. “I’d say they have lost the confidence of a significant number of people in the community, partly due to the fact we are a fairly young municipality and we are pretty-well financed up to our eyebrows.”

Meanwhile Lake Country mayor James Baker is defending council’s actions in the matter saying it’s been difficult because property negotiations are done in-camera and the main purchase discussions are done by the CN Rail acquisition team being led by Kelowna.

Baker said if the community votes no to the rail corridor the municipality will miss out on a major opportunity to acquire land.

“If we don’t look at this as an opportunity and say no to it, what (other) opportunities are we going to have?” he said. “People are coming to us saying we didn’t spend money to save the golf course but very few municipal golf courses make any money. People are upset we aren’t spending money on a swimming pool but the taxes for that would be phenomenal. This (rail corridor) is an asset with potential to be a revenue generator and people are saying we don’t know what it will cost. We’re saying it will cost very little given the experience with other jurisdictions with rail trails going through their communities. That’s why we need a yes vote, to look at a visionary Lake Country.”

The referendum is April 25. Check the district web site for information on advance polls.