City’s annexation plan possible, if not pressing

Wheels are in motion with Castlegar's designs on Ootischenia property

View from Kinnaird Bridge: Part of the trail network popular with local hikers.

View from Kinnaird Bridge: Part of the trail network popular with local hikers.

There was an element of urgency in an issue of municipal boundary extension that had come up earlier this year.

The City of Castlegar is interested in acquiring real estate for possible future development, and has gone about the process with land along the Ootischenia shore of the Columbia River below the Kinnaird Bridge.

The property known as the ‘pit lands,’ is about 60 acres altogether, some of which has been used for many years as a gravel pit.

Many local residents and visitors have also enjoyed the hiking trails in the area, and when the issue was included on a city council meeting agenda in February some felt there may have been something untoward about the process; that disposal of the lands was imminent and some kind of large scale development may be in the works.

A meeting was arranged by RDCK Area J Director Gord Zaitsoff for the Ootischenia Hall and there was a large turnout. People spoke out on the topic, some praising the recreational value of the relatively peaceful area. Others were critical of the City of Castlegar, feeling their rights as rural area residents were being brushed aside.

As things have turned out to this point, the urgency has definitely subsided. The City of Castlegar was, and is fully within the letter of the law in terms of how it’s going about the would-be annexation. The lands are owned by the Ministry of Transportation, and, according to the city’s Phil Markin, Director of Development Services, the area was being surveyed around the time he was contacted in late August.

The process is reportedly a careful one and can be quite lengthy. The Ministry, apparently, had not made a decision to sell the property as of late August.

Some of those eagerly attending the February meeting on the grounds of standing up for the recreational component appear to have been relieved.

Michelle Donaldson, an active and vocal participant in the February meeting is now reasonably happy about the situation. She said on August 25 that she and others are now fully aware there’s nothing illegitimate about the way the City of Castlegar has pursued this issue, and that there’s no way to change the process. She said much had been discovered when and since the issue came up in the late winter.

“We had a few meetings with the Ministry of Transportation,” she outlined, “and we got permission to be on the trails underneath the Kinnaird Bridge and to the Kinnaird Bridge, on Ministry land.” She said the permission  granted through the non-profit auspices of Castlegar Friends of Parks and Trails was a “…huge positive.”

“We also learned that they had no plans for the bottom land,” said Donaldson, “and they were going to give us some trees to plant on the berm to reduce the noise (from the gravel pit) and conserve the berm.”

“We have no way of opposing the process, it is what it is,” she concluded. “It’s exactly what’s happened in Trail with the airport land. This is how the Ministry works. This is how the process is, and because the regional district (RDCK) didn’t show any interest in first right of refusal, the City of Castlegar chose to have interest and start the legal process of acquiring the land.”

As for when the issue may be advanced in terms of the City of Castlegar’s boundaries, director of development services Phil Markin stated on August 25:

“That totally rests with the Province. We have no say in when it goes. It all depends on the Ministry completing their review and their recommendation then brings it forward to the cabinet.”

In an email response from the provincial government on the matter, Public Affairs Officer Alec Tully wrote:

“The City of Castlegar submitted their request. The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has worked with the City of Castlegar who will ensure that the legal descriptions of the highway, road allowance, and Ootischenia gravel pit are accurate and up to date for any boundary extension. That work must be completed before the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development proceeds with a boundary extension.”

Tully’s statement went on to inform that, “The boundary extension will not change ownership of the gravel pit, but the City of Castlegar would become responsible for zoning that parcel if the boundary extension proceeds. Any action by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to sell or otherwise dispose of the property once it is deemed surplus, would have to follow a separate process.”