Okanagan Indian Band gets on board with rail trail
VERNON – The issue of whether local governments would be able to buy a North Okanagan rail corridor and turn into a trail was up in the air last year.
A potential stumbling block was a request by the Okanagan Indian Band for an injunction that could have delayed the sale of part of that corridor until their civil claim could be determined.
The band didn’t get that injunction and the sale of most of the former CN rail corridor to local governments ultimately went ahead.
Now the band is formally getting on board with the rail trail project by joining the Inter-Jurisdictional Development Team.
“It is something that we’ve always believed in. It just kind of got clouded with the title and rights issue and maybe it shouldn’t have. Title and rights issues belong at the table of the federal government,” said Okanagan Indian Band councillor Allan Louis.
The move will mean the portion of the rail corridor which runs through the Duck Lake Indian Reserve north of the Kelowna Airport, is now expected to be part of the trail.
“This 50 km trail has three local governments involved in it already, but there is also 2.5 km that the band is going to own,” said Andrew Gibbs, who is heading up the Inter-Jurisdictional Development Team.
“Having them involved so we can provide a continuous trail is really key.”
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The band also believes having a seat at the table will give them a larger say as to what the final project looks like. They see an opportunity for education along the trail.
“The area that we are talking about has a lot of significance to the Okanagan Indian Band. There were fishing stations along there, cultural stops [and] winter housing was there as well. It is important for the Okanagan Indian Band to be at the table so we can have a voice to preserve those areas,” said Darcy Aubin the Okanagan Indian Band’s director of lands and economic development.
Public consultations for the rail trail are expected to begin in March. Then it will be up to the various jurisdictions to approved a design before a campaign to raise money for the trail can get underway.
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Gibbs said when the trail may be finished depends heavily on fundraising.
“All the municipalities and the band are very tapped out in terms of their infrastructure spending for the next ten years. All that money is designated. The challenge is if we want to provide this great trail now and still maintain our plans for the communities for the future, how do we do that?” asked Gibbs.
“That is why this project is really relying on public and community fundraising to make that goal happen.”
The band wouldn’t comment on whether they plan to move forward with their civil suit over some rail corridor land.
“All I can say is that the title and rights issue surrounding that bit of the corridor is something that is between us and the federal government. It is not with the local regions,” said Louis.