The land dispute between the Island Corridor Foundation and the Snaw-Naw-As (Nanoose) First Nation looks like it’s going to trial after all.
The lawsuit was scheduled to go to court this spring, but the ICF, which owns the deteriorating 220-kilometre E&N rail line that stretches from Victoria to Courtenay, hoped it could be resolved through negotiations before it went through a legal process in court.
Larry Stevenson, executive director of the ICF, said that unfortunately, the negotiations did not result in an agreement.
“The case will now be rescheduled for trial and, in the interim, we remain committed to finding a resolution to these issues and will continue working towards settlement with the First Nation,” he said.
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.
Robert Janes, legal counsel for the First Nation, said in 2016 when the lawsuit began that one of the conditions that goes with any expropriation of land for railways is that once it’s no longer needed or used for railway purposes, it goes back to the original owner.
“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,” Janes said.
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, which has long been committed to resurrecting rail service on the Island, 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.
Stevenson said the province has finally completed the Request for Proposal process for that project, has chosen an engineering firm to lead the assessment, and have named a project manager.
“Although we have disagreed with the province regarding the methodology and timing of the assessment, we do recognize the need for it, and are committed to working with the province to ensure the assessment is conducted as efficiently as possible,” Stevenson said.
“We will begin the assessment in the next few weeks.”