Indian Band wants to set the record straight

June 4, 2010

Penticton Indian band Chief Jonathan Kruger wants to reduce the fear factor surrounding the band‘s application to reacquire the former KVR right-of-way through the reserve.
Kruger and band Councillor Joan Phillip outlined the proposal before about 150 people attending a public information meeting Wednesday night at West Bench Elementary School.
While many residents expressed concern over what the bandís future plans may be for the route, emotions were largely kept in check.
The Penticton band has applied to Indian and Northern Affairs Canada to reacquire a 12-kilometre stretch of the right-of-way, totalling almost 139 acres, from Skaha Lake to Trout Creek.
This includes the portion through the West Bench-Sage Mesa area, but could exclude the section through the federal Pacific Agrifoods Research Centre immediately south of Trout Creek.
Legal talks between the band, the federal government and CP Rail have been ongoing for the past several years. However, West Bench residents werenít informed on the process until January, which many people off-guard.
The route is part of the Trans Canada Trail and includes several road and utility accesses.
Sage mesa resident Randy Enns said the right-of-way is within 10 metres of some homes in the area. Enns worried that if the band reacquires the right of way, there would be no zoning or building height restrictions.
"Whatever you do on that railbed could have an adverse effect, not only on our properties and our lifestyle, but also our property values," he said.
Another resident wondered if the band is willing to omit a portion of the route next to the Summerland research station, why couldn‘t it drop its application for the West Bench portion as well.
Kruger said the band simply wants its land back. The right-of-way was taken from the reserve almost 100 years ago.
The chief said afterwards he wasn‘t surprised by any of the comments.
"This is a very touchy issue between everybody," he said. "A lot of people use the railway (right-of-way) right now and it‘s a fear of change. We just have to get past that fear and come to some understanding where we can all live together."
Kruger said the band wants to be as open as possible with the West Bench residents.
"It‘s a change that needs to happen. At the end of the day people will understand," he said.
Michael Brydon, Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen director for Area F, said the RDOS submitted a letter to Indian and Northern Affairs Canada in April, outlining residents‘ concerns about maintaining the right-of-way for non-motorized traffic along with sewer, water lines and other infrastructure concerns.
Brydon said the meeting was encouraging, adding that closer relationships between the band and other local communities can only lead to a more positive future.
"Really, at the end of the day, the only leverage we have at the regional district - given that this is seen as a legal obligation - is to negotiate with the band, government to government, the same way we negotiate with the City of Penticton," he said.
Exactly when a final agreement will be worked out remains an uncertainty. None of the five officials from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada attending the West Bench meeting would speculate as to when a decision will be made.


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