Canyon access issue churned up at Golden
By Ian Cobb
One month ago it appeared as though a solution had been reached regarding access over the CP Rail line to the Lower Canyon of the Kicking Horse River east of Golden.
Earlier in the year CP Rail had informed river rafting companies in the Golden area that the crossing they had been using for years, to access the river, was going to be closed because of a Transport Canada order. Different levels of government, local, provincial and federal, banded together with the rafting companies and community to get CP to allow access and let the local companies continue to operate their businesses.
However, with the arrival of the season-opening Victoria Day long weekend, the crossing was still closed.
A locked gate at the access point to the Lower Canyon of the Kicking Horse River seems to indicate that CP Rail had little intention of fulfilling its promise to the community of Golden and the rafting companies to provide access to this iconic tourist product, stated Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald last week.
“Despite the promise to the community on April 22 that raft companies would have access to the Lower Canyon on the Kicking Horse River, negotiations to finalize the agreement have dragged on and a locked gate has been installed barring access to Glacier Raft staff, even though they’d been promised access today to do training in preparation for tomorrow’s season opening,” Macdonald said.
“I sat in that room with Mayor Ron Oszust and representatives of the rafting companies and was told by Mark Wallace, Chief of Staff to CEO Hunter Harrison that CP Rail was going to provide access to the Lower Canyon. There was an apology from CP Rail for the disruption that had been caused to the community, and a clear statement that they had a solution. We took Mr. Wallace at his word.”
Instead, negotiations were drawn out to the 11th hour, with only hours before the season opening.
“I hold CP Rail directly responsible for this fiasco,” continued Macdonald. “There may be attempts to cast blame on other parties, but I reject that. CP Rail came to my community and made a clear promise. Today, with the refusal to allow access to the Lower Canyon for training, they have broken that promise, and that is simply unacceptable to this community.”
Prior to the announcement on April 22 that an agreement in principle had been reached, the community rallied in support of the rafting companies, signed petitions, and sent emails. The Save our Lower Canyon group garnered the public support of Senator Nancy Greene Raine and others from across the country.
Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training Shirley Bond and Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone immediately came to the aid of the community, putting significant resources towards settling the issue with CP Rail.
“I know I speak for the entire community when I say that the work that has been done by the province to reach a deal has been very much appreciated. This is the responsibility of CP Rail to solve, and it is the expectation of the people of Golden that CP Rail do what needs to be done to fulfill their commitment to the community. Nothing less is acceptable,” Macdonald said.
Meanwhile, CP is blaming the Province of B.C., saying in a May 20 press release it is disappointed in the province’s decision to reverse its position on the agreement-in-principle regarding rafter access to Kicking Horse River
“The Province of British Columbia has reversed a position that formed the basis for an agreement-in-principle that would have seen rafting companies granted access to cross active CP railway tracks safely to the lower canyon of the Kicking Horse River,” CP stated in its press release.
The company voluntarily participated in good-faith discussions April 22 with the Mayor of Golden, as well as representatives from the province and local rafting companies to establish terms that would allow rafting companies and their clients safe passage to the rapids across an active rail corridor, while also satisfying safety concerns raised by Transport Canada, it said in its release.
“CP had agreed to offer a short-term solution for rafting companies and the community of Golden to enjoy a safe and successful 2016 rafting season while potential longer-term solutions were weighed by all stakeholders. Among other key components of the agreement-in-principle, the province agreed to assume the risks associated with any safety-related incident arising directly from this special access for rafters,” the CP press release stated.
“CP is disappointed that it was informed by the provincial government Friday afternoon (May 20) of its reversal in position,” the company said.
There has yet to be a response from the province.
However, a May 17 press release noted the province remains committed to facilitating an agreement between Canadian Pacific (CP), the community of Golden and local rafting companies that would allow visitors to enjoy the 2016 rafting season.
“From the moment we heard that the Golden rafting season might be put in jeopardy, we engaged the federal government, the mayor, local tourism operators and CP to work together to find a solution,” said Bond. “We’re continuing to work closely with all parties to reach a final agreement that will save the 2016 rafting season for the people of Golden.”
The joint ministry news release pointed out that on April 22, “the parties reached an agreement in principle that would have allowed rafters to safely cross the rail track with CP-designated flagging contractors who were paid for by the rafting companies. The rafting companies had also agreed to assume liability at the tracks and provide waivers to all of their customers.
“Last week, Canadian Pacific presented an agreement, which would transfer all of the risk at the tracks to the province and to B.C. taxpayers. The province is considering taking on some of the risk in order to save the 2016 rafting season. In return, B.C. has asked that Canadian Pacific enter into a formal mediation process to work out a long-term and sustainable solution, a process B.C. first proposed in April. As part of this, the province will work with local stakeholders to explore infrastructure funding options to find a long-term solution.”
“We know how important the summer rafting season is to the community of Golden. Time is of the essence,” Stone said. “We are doing everything we can to work out a solution, while retaining safe access to the tracks. We remain hopeful that the parties can come together to save the 2016 rafting season.”
A Save our Lower Canyon Facebook page (now with 2,044 likes/followers) was established before promises of a settlement were in place. Here is a May 24 statement on that page:
“We know people have a lot of questions about what is happening with the Lower Canyon issue. Unfortunately we do too. The Town of Golden and all of the rafting companies have been left out of negotiations that are currently taking place between Canadian Pacific and the Province of British Columbia.
“We were led to believe that everything would have been sorted out by now and that we’d have our agreement so we could focus on getting ready for a summer of rafting. This is unfortunately not the case.
“All we know at this stage is that we will continue to do everything we can to maintain access to this stretch of water that is so incredibly important to our community.
“Three representatives from Canadian Pacific came to our town on April 22 and told us they would work with us to ensure rafting on the Kicking Horse goes ahead as normal for this summer. We are holding them to that. Canadian Pacific – reputations are very important. Please don’t go back on your word!”
Approximately 40,000 visitors raft the Kicking Horse River annually. And approximately 15,000 of those visitors raft the lower canyon. Tourism Golden’s visitor survey reports that of those surveyed, 10% cited rafting as an activity they participated in while visiting Golden.