A resolution to a dispute blocking rail service on Vancouver Island could be reached soon.
The Island Corridor Foundation is hoping the Snaw-Naw-As (Nanoose) First Nation’s lawsuit over the E&N rail line can be resolved before it goes before the courts on May 13.
ICF co-chairman Phil Kent said it’s in the best interests of both parties to settle the issue over ownership of the rail line that goes through the First Nation’s reserve north of Nanaimo before the case is heard in court.
“We’re in discussions with the First Nation right now and our legal teams are working on it, so there’s not much more I can say about that at this time,” said Kent, who is also the former mayor of Duncan.
“We’re anxious to resolve this issue because it’s preventing us from moving our plans for the rail line fully forward.”
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The civil lawsuit by the First Nation against the ICF and the Attorney General of Canada asks for the return of Snaw-Naw-As land that the First Nation claims was wrongfully taken from it years ago to build the railway.
“One of the conditions that goes with any expropriation like that for railways is that once it’s no longer needed or used for railway purposes, it goes back to the original owner,” said Robert Janes, legal counsel for the First Nation, in 2016 when the lawsuit was first filed.
“We are just bringing a claim to ask the court to determine that fundamentally, given where things are with the E&N Railway, that the time has come to return the land to Snaw-Naw-As.”
Kent said the land dispute with the First Nation is just one of many obstacles the ICF has had to deal with in its efforts to revive the railway.
“The grass roots in many communities and organizations have worked hard to get us to the point where we are today,” he said.
“We’re hoping for a positive outcome with our discussions with the Snaw-Naw-As First Nation.”
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The ICF owns the deteriorating 220-kilometre E&N rail line that stretches from Victoria to Courtenay and is committed to resurrecting rail service on the Island.
Passenger train service on the rail line was stopped in 2011 due to track safety concerns, and freight service has also been discontinued on most parts of the Island.
The ICF presented a $42.7-million proposal to revive the railway to the new NDP government in 2017, with the hopes that senior levels of government would split the costs of major track upgrades between Nanaimo and Victoria, which is considered to be phase one of the overall project.
Neither the province nor Ottawa have yet committed to the plan, but the province has committed to an assessment of track and bridge conditions on the rail corridor that is expected to be completed by the end of October.