Seawalk deal imminent between West Vancouver, CN Rail

Municipality and railroad have been locked in a legal fight over the public walkway since February 2017, when talks about a new lease agreement broke down

North Shore News
September 11, 2018

A deal between West Vancouver and CN Rail over public access to the 50-year-old Seawalk is imminent, the municipality announced Friday. | Mike Wakefield, North Shore News
The District of West Vancouver announced Friday that a settlement with CN Rail on public access to West Vancouver’s waterfront Seawalk is imminent.

“It’s a very favourable deal for West Van residents,” said Mayor Mike Smith on Friday.

Smith said he couldn’t confirm any details of the deal until it is approved by council, likely on September 10.

But he said the terms of the deal will involve CN dropping the legal suit in exchange for a one-time payment by the municipality which will allow district residents to continue to use the seawall “in perpetuity, I hope.”

Donna Powers, spokeswoman for the district, said progress in the dispute has “happened very quickly” after Smith became personally involved in negotiations over the past week with senior executives at CN.

Smith said he decided to get involved directly after becoming frustrated at the lack of progress on the issue.

“I just think once things get into the legal arena the only winners are the lawyers,” he said.

In a press statement released by the municipality, both Smith and Sean Finn, CN’s executive vice-president of corporate services and chief legal officer for the company, said they were pleased with the imminent deal.

In the statement, Finn praised the letter of intent with the municipality as an “important step toward a mutually beneficial resolution that ensures access in a safe manner to the Seawalk for years to come.”

Smith said Friday he expects to release the terms of the deal after it is approved by council.

Though access to the Seawalk has never been blocked, the municipality and CN have been locked in a legal fight over the public walkway since February 2017, when talks about a new lease agreement broke down.

The municipality also stopped regular maintenance work on the Seawalk while the dispute continued.

The municipality built the Seawalk 50 years ago to mark Canada’s 100th birthday.

CN holds a lease on about 1,100 metres of land over which a portion of the Seawalk is built.

In February of 2017 a branch of the railway company filed a lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court against the municipality, asking for an injunction preventing the District of West Vancouver from trespassing on the land and seeking damages for overdue rental payments, which the municipality stopped paying more than 20 years ago.

The municipality, in turn, asked the Canadian Transportation Agency, a quasi-judicial federal agency that oversees railway operations, for an order allowing the municipality continued use of the Seawalk at no cost.

The dispute was essentially about money, said lawyers who spoke at a hearing before the transportation agency panel in October 2017.

Ian MacKay, a lawyer for the District of West Vancouver, said the railway was attempting to “hold the community to ransom” by demanding payments of $3.7 million in annual rent for a one-kilometre section of the Seawalk.

Previously, the district had offered CN rent of $12,500 per year.

The transportation agency eventually ruled that the dispute more properly belonged back before the courts.

Power Friday said municipal crews will take down signs that had been placed on the Seawalk at the beginning of the dispute, warning the public to use the walkway at their own risk. Smith added the district will now get back to regular maintenance work on the Seawalk.

He added he’s pleased to have been able to resolve the dispute before the end of this council’s term.


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