Citizens need to stand up for rights after Goat River public access sold

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To the Editor:

I received a phone call from Rajeeta Bains of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) confirming rumours that the public access to the Point through Goat Canyon Road has indeed been parcelled and sold to a private land owner.

How did this happen? I am in shock that in 2015 government forfeited the interests of an entire community as a solution to one private citizen’s complaints. In this same year, a judge in the Okanagan ruled that health and wellness of the public took precedence over competing land interests and secured a rails-to-trails corridor.

Over the past year, through a series of public meetings, citizens of the Creston Valley voted that our top priority for a community initiative was to get connected, calling it the community connector trail. We envisioned a non-motorized path from Wynndel through Erickson, then reaching to the east side of the valley going down Goat Canyon Road with a suspension bridge to replace the old bridge across the Point, and then connecting up through Canyon and to the farms in Lister. This is an ambitious goal, but other communities have similar paths, so why couldn’t we?

Several of us who are passionate about preserving access to the canyon have been working behind the scenes for the past two years to try to figure out what could be done about the road closure to the area known as the Point. In July 2014, the Trails for Creston Valley Society met with MOTI and Regional District of Central Kootenay representatives to discuss several options for opening access through existing highways corridors. Conversations in that meeting, emails and extensive public engagement processes have ensured local governments were well informed of the goals laid down by the public to get connected.

Regardless, the public road access was parcelled and sold despite the fact that official court documents state that about 200 people accessed the river this way daily. We lost a valuable public access to an important community recreational area on Crown land. In the meantime, valley residents flock in hoards to the bridge on Highway 21, park on the shoulder of a busy highway and jump off a highway bridge for recreation because there is nowhere else to go. The closest public beach is a 45-minute drive up Kootenay Lake to Twin Bays.

Because of a runaround between the regional districts, RCMP and MOTI, the judge deemed MOTI a bad neighbour and ruled in a court decision that it, as the defendant, had to come up with a solution. Its short-term solution was to gate the road and post a guard to prohibit access, much to the chagrin of many sweaty would-be swimmers and kayakers trying to access the coolness of the canyon.

Bains followed up with an email answering my questions about public consideration in the decision. “It was discussed with RDCK about creating a park. However due to many factors, a park was not favoured by the RDCK. In 2014, RDCK stated that the land could not be sold as an individual parcel due to zoning parcel size requirements. The land was then offered to both land owners adjacent to the right of way.”

Citizens need to stand up for our right to access and preserve the commons. The beautiful natural spaces that are our home become simply lot numbers and lines on maps to those sitting in the offices. All over the province, people are stepping forward for the stewardship of their natural spaces and waterways.

You too can support these initiatives by speaking to your local politicians about securing public spaces and access to water. This must never happen again!

For more information on the court ruling, search file 2011BCSC0258 in the BC court registries.

Mary Jayne Blackmore