PAQ’TNKEK: A local First Nations community will vote next month on a land exchange agreement involving the twinning of Highway 104.

“We’re in the process of voting on July 13 on basically surrendering – which is a term in the Indian Act – about 32 acres of reserve land and transferring roughly 34 acres of band-owned land… for purposes of the highway development project to allow the infrastructure to take place in that regard involving roads and overpasses, roundabouts, things like that,” said Paq’tnkek Chief Paul Prosper.

Prosper said an agreement exists between Paq’tnkek and the federal and provincial governments on the terms and conditions related to the highway project, the lands provided, the compensation for the lands, and other items such as the removal of houses and certain losses to other lands.

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“As it relates to reserve land, if we get a successful vote on the 13th, it would be surrendered to the federal government and then the federal government would in turn transfer those lands to the provincial government,” he said.

“With respect to the lands the band owns, those would be transferred directly to the province.”

Prosper said he approves of the agreement, noting it took a long time to negotiate. He said it provides an opportunity for the community to benefit from having access to the highway and provides the province with land for the highway project.

The chief described the Paq’tnkek Interchange Project as part of the overall twinning of the 104. He said it will include an overpass, roundabouts and connector roads.

“I think this project will make a tremendous difference in terms of commercial and community development for our community and for generations to come,” he said.

The agreement would see the band receive $2.3 million in compensation, should the agreement go through. In order for the vote to pass, 207 of the band’s 413 registered voters have to vote on July 13 and 105 of the voters must vote in favour of the agreement. If the vote does not go through, the land will stay with the band.

“From my discussions and what I’m hearing in the community, there are a lot people who realize the value of a project like this,” he said.

Prosper said Paq’tnkek is located on two parcels of land, noting around 200 hectares of land on the south side of the community was expropriated by the government in the 1960s for the construction of the Trans-Canada Highway.

“Our community, for the most part, almost totally is on the north side,” said Prosper. “It restricted the band from getting access to the south side. There is one house that is located on that but it has been there for quite some time.”

Prosper added the interchange and access ramps would “allow us to access the south side of that 200-hectare parcel.”