A FEW DAYS AGO, I took an amble along one of my favorite trails, the Jack Gregson Trail. Tucked away, along the South Thompson River, connecting the east end of Lorne Street with Kelly Douglas Road, it provides some beautiful views of the river and hills, especially with the golden fall colours.
What once was a path used by First Nation families going fishing along the river, birdwatchers spotting wrens and eagles, and transients looking for a campsite, will be no more. The juxtaposition of lush plants immediately next to the river a few feet away from dry sagebrush and grasses will be taken over by rail tracks and gravel.
For millennium, long before Jack Gregson worked on the trail, long before there was a railway, people have been walking along the banks of the river. But no more. Alas, landownership trumps public commons.
I was skeptical that the railway owned the entire property. I thought, perhaps that they owned only a small portion, and there might be a chance for at least some access in the future, so I went online to look at property title information, size and boundaries.
Unfortunately, the railway clearly owns the entire property bounded by the river and the existing railway, from Lorne Street to Kelly Douglas Way. They own the land and can do with it what they want.
Well, not quite. Certainly, they own it. But it is still within City of Kamloops boundaries, which defines zoning. The land is zoned, T-1 (Railway), so having a railway on the property is an allowable use. But there are other designations on the property, too.
First, it is a riparian area. A development permit is required for any removal, alteration or disruption of vegetation, or construction activities, as well as construction of impervious or semi-impervious surfaces. When I walked along the path this week, some brush had already been cut down.
Has the City issued a permit for the alteration of the riparian zone? There are exemptions for requiring a development permit when building in a riparian zone, such as farming and mining activities, but railways are not listed as exempted. The railway needs to follow the requirements for development in a riparian zone, just as any landowner is required to do.
Second, the land is in an Industrial Land Use area. This means it should follow requirements of an industrial area, including “for industrial uses that produce high volumes of noise, including but not limited to rail yards,…landscape features should be utilized to buffer noise”.
There is often an argument that railways do not have to mitigate noise, because they were there before anyone else. But, in this case, clearly, the adjacent housing was there before the soon to be built rail lines. City of Kamloops should enforce its own Industrial Land Use bylaws and insist that adequate noise barriers be erected between the new rail lines and the adjacent houses along Lorne Street.
Third, the railway needs to be made accountable for debris along its tracks, which can blow into the river. All along the corridor from Valleyview to the centre of the city, there is garbage strewn along the rail sidings. It swirls around as the trains drive by.
With these new tracks, there will be an easy path for garbage to blow into the river. The railway has a responsibility to reduce garbage along its tracks, and the City of Kamloops has a responsibility to ensure the company is following nuisance bylaws.
Finally, there is the question of whether the public has the right to access the river along the trail. According to an article by local lawyer Mary MacGregor, this is a very complex issue. However, it illustrates how, over time, the City of Kamloops has been passive in not representing the rights of individuals to access public spaces through long established private accesses. With the loss of the Jack Gregson Trail, the public commons, including the river, is being whittled away.
Kamloops is a railway town. There is no getting way from that. But even the mighty railways need to follow the bylaws of the City if they want to be part of the community. The City of Kamloops must ensure the railway meets its obligations when the new rail lines are built.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.