NEWS

Okanagan CN Rail purchase opposed by Lake Country residents

03/02/2015 04:40 EST | Updated 05/02/2015 05:59 EDT
A rare opportunity to purchase choice lakefront property in the Okanagan could be jeopardized because residents of one out of six municipalities are opposed to raising taxes to pay for the land.

In December, the City of Kelowna negotiated the $22 million purchase of an abandoned railway from CN Rail on behalf of a group of municipalities: Lake Country, Coldstream, Vernon and the regional districts of Central and North Okanagan.

There have been discussions about turning the land into a multi-use trail, although the municipalities haven't made any final decisions.

The District of Lake Country planned to borrow its $2.6 million share and charge it back in taxes, which would cost the average homeowner $27 a year.

'We need a sewer system'

But 10 per cent of Lake Country residents, the minimum needed to stop the deal, sent in a form stating their opposition to the purchase.

"The walking trail will be there forever, but we need a sewer system," said Lake Country resident Ro Schan.

The region's homes operate on a septic tank system, and Schan says many are getting old and starting to fail.

"I'm for it in the sense that it would be nice to have, but priorities should be put forth," he said.

Schan says the rail line is currently used as a trail by resident anyways, so he doesn't see the need to purchase it.

Could be sold to 'private interests'

But Lake Country councillor Blair Ireland said that's not the case.

"That trail won't be there forever unless we buy it," said Ireland. "It could be sold to private interests just as easily."

Ireland says the district's priorities remain where they were before, and that purchasing the land would be an asset that the city could borrow against to put forward even more projects.

"It's a once in a lifetime opportunity," said Ireland. "It's not just about a little walking trail for people to walk their dogs and things, this is a multi-use trail that could feature rapid transit. It could be anything."

The district is now evaluating its options and has referred the matter to the acquisition team to see if the purchase deadline of April 1 could be pushed to allow time for a referendum.

Ireland thinks a referendum would pass "quite easily." He said he's heard from many residents who support the deal and were upset to hear it's been stalled.

To listen to both interviews, click on the audio labelled: Lake Country residents oppose lakeshore rail purchase

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