The Western Vancouver Island Industrial Heritage Society tentatively holds ownership of the Alberni Pacific Railway, says City of Port Alberni CAO Tim Pley.
Pley responded on Monday to Port Alberni resident Roland Smith, who last week revealed he was able to reserve the name “Alberni Pacific Railway Ltd.” because no one else had the claim. Smith took the drastic action when the city failed to answer his repeated requests for the name of the railway’s owner.
Pley provided both a verbal and written response to Smith’s questions regarding the railway during a Monday, Oct. 23, meeting of council.
According to Pley, most of the confusion around the railway’s true owner stems from the complex relationship between the city of Port Alberni and the Western Vancouver Island Industrial Heritage Society (IHS).
Between 2012 and 2016, the city-owned McLean Mill National Historic site was operated by the IHS, and an operating agreement provided for IHS use of rails that the city held a land-use agreement for.
“That relationship evolved over many years, and for the most part, the agreements had leases that evolved over time, as well,” Pley said. “It appears to me that they evolved as needs arose.”
This led to some cases of documents that were not complementary or dated, said Pley.
When the McLean Mill Society took over McLean Mill in 2017, a number of “administrative gaps” arose. The most difficult part, said Pley, was that the IHS was the operator of the APR.
“This is the heart of Mr. Smith’s letter,” said Pley. “If there is an ownership, it belongs to IHS, the permanent operator of APR.”
In his written response to Smith, Pley further explained that in the early years of the railway’s operation, the IHS operated the railway for the city, so the point of ownership “may have been considered to be moot.”
The city has to decide if they want to take on operation of the APR or move it over to the McLean Mill Society.
“We don’t currently have an operating agreement,” said Pley. “We’ve got all the pieces we need to ensure they’re operating safely and without liability risk to the city.”
The primary piece for this winter, he said, is to clarify who will be operating the train moving forward, and have whoever that operator may be under contract.
Pley’s full response to Roland Smith is in the city council agenda package, available below.