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Battle brewing in the Shuswap about future of docks near rail trail

Click to play video: 'Shuswap homeowners concerned about future of docks' Shuswap homeowners concerned about future of docks
WATCH: A battle is brewing in the Shuswap over the future of docks along a planned rail trail. Homeowners are concerned they may be forced to remove their docks but local officials deny they're trying to push docks out. – Dec 7, 2021

A battle is brewing in the Shuswap over the future of docks along a planned rail trail.

A group of Shuswap dock owners and their supporters believe regional governments planning a rail trail want to see some private docks removed.

The group is worried about what that would mean for Sicamous’ tourist economy.

Click to play video: 'Sicamous to Armstrong rail trail not open' Sicamous to Armstrong rail trail not open
Sicamous to Armstrong rail trail not open – May 13, 2020

“We have to ask ourselves why are they attacking these docks and what is that going to do to Sicamous?” said Natalie Sorkilmo, a Sicamous business owner and spokesperson for the BC Dock Owners Coalition.

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“Essentially, without the docks, we don’t have the boats and without the boaters, in Sicamous, we don’t have the business…We can’t keep our businesses open. We can’t employ people.”

However, the two regional districts involved in the Sicamous to Armstrong rail trail project, the Columbia Shuswap Regional District and Regional Disrict of North Okanagan, deny they are angling to have docks removed along the future path.

Read more: Second stretch of rail trail corridor in Okanagan closer to reality

“The whole point to this is we protect [the former rail corridor] for the greater rather than the few,” said North Okanagan Regional District Chair Kevin Acton.

“As far as dock removal goes there is no intention, at this time, of having anyone remove their docks at all.”

The issue has become contentious with the dock owners’ group raising over $124,000 online to pay for legal advice and advocacy.

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The major flashpoint is a legal agreement semi-waterfront owners, with property on one side of the rail trail and docks on the other, are being asked to sign.

The dock owners group said the agreements differ from the previous contracts homeowners had with the rail company when the rail trail land was still a railway.

Read more: Planning continues for Sicamous to Armstrong rail trail; fundraising now top priority

The group is concerned that the legal language, including the removal of a line about riparian rights, would pave the way for docks to be removed.

“We think that deletion is extremely significant. It gives us so much information about where the regional district is going with this and the fact that they are not at all prepared to peacefully coexist with docks and those docks are being pulled from the water sooner or later,” said Andrew House a lawyer for the BC Dock Owners Coalition.

The Columbia Shuswap Regional District said the wording in that section was removed because it also referred to income tax, which location governments do not collect.

Officials argue the contracts are meant to facilitate the docks remaining while protecting the wider public interest in the publically owned rail trail land.

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“In my opinion, the homeowners want an agreement that protects them as though they own the land and as though they own the waterfront,” said Kevin Flynn, chair of the Columbia Shuswap Regional District.

Click to play video: 'Stolen street signs for Old Town Road in Sicamous, B.C. draw national attention thanks to hit song' Stolen street signs for Old Town Road in Sicamous, B.C. draw national attention thanks to hit song
Stolen street signs for Old Town Road in Sicamous, B.C. draw national attention thanks to hit song – Aug 2, 2019

“What the province says is that upland homeowners need formalized agreements to access docks. We are just wanting to help them keep docks.”

“We are really doing them a favour, making sure that there is a lease in place for them to be able to keep their docks,” added Acton.

“It’s quite the opposite on the trail that goes from Kelowna to Vernon. There [have] been very few lease agreements for crossings and most docks were removed.”

Read more: Deal could mean Shuswap rail trail

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However, Sorkilmo, the BC Dock Owners spokesperson, said owners feel extremely threatened and don’t feel like officials are trying to protect their docks.

“If that’s the case, then sit down at the table with a mediator and delve into these contracts so that there can be an understanding,” said Sorkilmo.

The Columbia Shuswap Regional District said an advisory committee rejected the idea of going to mediation.

Meanwhile, work on two sections of the rail trail is expected to proceed next year.

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