News

Train trestle won’t be replaced ‘without Semiahmoo First Nation permission’

Semiahmoo First Nation maintains BNSF needs permission to replace the Little Campbell River train bridge. - File
Semiahmoo First Nation maintains BNSF needs permission to replace the Little Campbell River train bridge.
— image credit: File

While BNSF has said the deteriorating rail bridge over the Little Campbell River can be replaced as early as this summer by accessing it via rail-owned land, Semiahmoo First Nation disagrees.

This trestle is on property belonging to Semiahmoo First Nation and any work to address its condition must go through the proper channels first, band spokesperson Joanne Charles said Friday.

While safety is the Semiahmoo’s number-one concern, Charles said, there is more to repairing or replacing the trestle than most people realize.

“This is complicated… a very complex legal matter and a legal issue,” Charles told Peace Arch News.

The corroded condition of the bridge has been a subject of concern for years – most recently, in the year since the Lac Mégantic, Que. derailment. It has been earmarked by the railway for replacement since 2011.

BNSF spokesperson Gus Melonas told PAN last July and again in January that the company was negotiating with the Semiahmoo for access to build a replacement bridge.

April 29, railway officials told White Rock Coun. Grant Meyer and city manager Dan Bottrill they “had a plan” for the trestle, and Melonas then told PAN last week that replacement work could begin within months and is anticipated to be complete by the end of the year. It would be done using technology that can be applied from railroad property, he said.

But Charles said nothing can be done – including from railway property – until full consultation has taken place with the band,  Transport Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and formal permissions are in place.

Charles said BNSF walked away from talks last month.

“We’re not in consultation at the moment, we are hoping to engage in consultation with those departments,” she said.

“The bridge is located on Semiahmoo First Nation land and before (BNSF) can do anything to those lands, they need to consult, accommodate and reconcile with Semiahmoo First Nation.”

Charles said the situation is difficult to explain and, without the history behind it, easily misunderstood – including by media. That lack of understanding has made the band “not look in a good favour,” she said, referring to previous PAN articles that noted efforts to reach the band for comment had been unsuccessful.

“It’s band business and it’s complex.”

Ultimately, Charles said, authority to do any work must come from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, provided the band agrees.

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