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Easement option available for farms along Shuswap North Okanagan Rail Trail

Easements not recommended for dock owners
Between 35 and 50 kilometres of the Shuswap North Okanagan Rail Trail currently being constructed sits adjacent to farmland in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Permits or easements?

Farmers operating on land adjacent to the Shuswap North Okanagan Rail Trail can now obtain either one in order to cross the trail to get to their farmland.

In a report to the Columbia Shuswap Regional District June board meeting, community and protective services general manager Derek Sutherland asked directors to support a registered easement option to be developed in addition to the existing permit option as recommended by the Governance Advisory Committee of the Shuswap North Okanagan Rail Trail (SNORT).

The recommendation included approval of wording that would allow for moving the easement in the future, if necessary, charging farmers for all costs involved and making conditions of the easement option mirror those of existing permits.

"This has been a longstanding issue in front of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC), which was raised by farm owners in the Regional District of the North Okanagan (RDNO) and Spallumcheen,” he said.

Approximately 35 kilometres of the 50-km rail trail lands are within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) where any activity requires Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) approval.

"One of the key concerns raised by some adjacent farms has been securing on-going access to cross the trail for farm operations," wrote Sutherland, pointing out that, in some cases, the only legal access is across the rail trail.

Rail trail owners, RDNO, Splatsin and CSRD, introduced a permit system to guarantee on-going access, but there are still concerns among some farmers. 

"Traditionally, the rail trail owner has been reluctant to enter into permanent easements to not incumber future boards from making decisions pertinent to the affected sections of trail," wrote Sutherland. "After consultation with the agricultural land owners and the Agricultural Land Commission, the need to access farm land from the rail trail was seen as a sufficient justification for registered easements." 

On June 12, the Governance Advisory Committee (GAC) met with a number of farmers to hear their concerns and to discuss a possible solution which would include an option for farmers to obtain an easement.

Board chair Kevin Flynn, one of three members of the governance committee, attended the meeting, joined by Sutherland and chief administrative officer John MacLean. 

"At the meeting, several farmers were in favour of permits," he said, noting that it was made clear that farmers who wanted easements would be responsible for all associated costs.

In response to a question by Revelstoke Mayor Gary Sulz, MacLean echoed Flynn that the reason some farmers want more than a permit is likely a lack of trust.

"From an operational perspective, we all struggle as to what the difference is between the two, and I do think it is a trust issue in that there is something filed on title, there is an agreement entered into," he said. "It’s very clear from the GAC and the recommendations that there are still certain protections that need to happen." 

Directors were unanimous in their approval of the governance committee's first recommendation before moving onto a second portion of the resolution that deals with a delegation request from dock owners in the Sicamous area.

"The GAC has declined this request and does not support providing easements for dock owners," wrote Sutherland. "This issue is very different from the request from farmers, and the Splatsin, RDNO and CSRD boards have already provided clear direction on how to proceed." 

Sicamous Mayor Colleen Anderson asked Sutherland to provide an update on the issue.

Sutherland pointed out that the Governance Advisory Committee wanted to make a clear delineation between easements that are being given for agricultural producers and food security reasons and recreational users docking a boat on Mara Lake.

"The GAC is of the opinion that they are well aware of arguments and issues dock owners have and have considered those, and provided a viable option for dock owners to gain a permit to have upland consent from rail trail owners to have their docks on the rail trail property," he said.

Flynn added that letters about crossing permits were sent to all upland homeowners in December clearly describing the process for obtaining a dock permit and that the deadline to apply is July 31.

MacLean assured Anderson that CSRD's role is to provide tenures and to advise the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure whether or not the trail owners consent to the tenures. He said if the permit process is already underway as of July 31, dock owners will not be reported to the ministry.

Agreeing that she has not been involved with the rail trail project since the beginning, Anderson said she is not aware of how many times the dock owners have approached the governance advisory committee.

“I never want to turn down a delegation, so I’m not in favour of this,” she said pointing out  that, on the other hand, she wants folks to understand that while this is once again shining a spotlight on the issue of tenure on the water, it is not CSRD coming down on dock owners.

The rest of the board voted in favour of the recommendation and Sutherland advised them the Governance Advisory Committee also requires approval from the Regional District of North Okanagan (RDNO) Board of Directors, and Splatsin Kukpi7 & Tkwamipla7 (Chief and Council) in order to proceed with the above noted recommendations.