Courtenay supporting railway service

The City of Courtenay is sending a message to the federal government about the importance of Vancouver Island rail service at what is being called a "critical juncture" in the drive to secure millions in funding for rail infrastructure.

Council voted Monday to write to Denis Lebel, the minister of transport, infrastructure and communities, expressing support for Island rail services and for securing $7.5 million in federal funding for rail infrastructure.

"This is getting to the point of being urgent," said Mayor Greg Phelps, who was going to the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF) retreat Thursday. "The patient is on life support and failing quickly. We need a council resolution or strong letter to send off to anybody who will read it and try to get some heat onto our federal ministers on this.

"I know Minister (John) Duncan is actually beside himself on this. He's talked to everybody he can; he's fully supportive, as is MP (James) Lunney from Nanaimo and MPs from down the Island, but it seems to have hit a roadblock in Ottawa."

Council received a request from ICF executive director Graham Bruce to write to Lebel expressing Courtenay's support for Island rail and stressing the urgency for the federal government to approve $7.5 million in infrastructure funding. The letter would also request that Lebel meet with the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC) as soon as possible.

"We are at a critical juncture with respect to securing federal funding in the amount of $7.5 million, and we need your help," wrote Bruce. "Minister John Duncan, North Island MP, has been in discussion with the Ministry of Transport and will be vigorously pursuing the funding during the next two weeks with his colleague, Denis Lebel ..."

Bruce told council he felt a letter of support would be very useful in securing a meeting with Lebel, and he stated it is critical in supporting Duncan's discussions.

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During the same meeting, council approved a 10-year Draft License of Occupation Agreement with the ICF for the Rail with Trail project.

"This is fairly consistent with agreements that have been signed by many communities on Vancouver Island, and we are following suit," said community services director Randy Wiwchar.

The city has been working with the ICF on a long-term process to develop a Rail with Trail along the east side of the E&N Rail Corridor — which is also known as the Vancouver Island Corridor.

The first phase of the project is from Fifth Street to Cumberland Road, while the second phase would be from Cumberland Road to 17th Street.

Council approved the overall concept in February.

The Licence of Occupation is for a 10-year term, which can be renewed for an additional 10-year term if agreed to by both parties, according to the report from Wiwchar and corporate administration manager John Ward.

Similar agreements have been approved by the Regional District of Nanaimo and Qualicum Beach and are close to being signed by Parksville and Nanaimo, they noted.

Funding for the project has been allocated in the 2011 budget, while the Courtenay Rotary Club has also committed $50,000 toward the project.

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