Tuesday, September 23rd16.5°C

Council grabs attention

West Kelowna Mayor, Doug Findlater and members of his council were able to bend the ear of provincial ministers during day one of the Union of BC Municipalities Convention in Whistler.

At scheduled meetings with provincial government representatives, Mayor and Council raised issues of importance to West Kelowna including: a second-crossing of Okanagan Lake, Highway 97 traffic safety and congestion and off-road vehicle licensing.

Council was able to meet with both Transportation and Infrastructure Minister, Todd Stone and Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, Steve Thomson.

West Kelowna was able to discuss the study into the second-crossing of Okanagan Lake that was recently announced by the Province, seeking reassurance from the minister that this will be a corridor, rather than crossing only, study.

“West Kelowna Council believes that this issue is bigger than just where a second bridge should be located,” says Mayor Doug Findlater. “We received confirmation from Minister Stone that it is indeed a much broader study than just the crossing, which will look at the traffic patterns of the region and consider a bypass or even a second corridor to help alleviate traffic congestion.”

Mayor Findlater said that Council may want to conduct an economic impact study related to the study to understand any potential impacts to West Kelowna from these considerations.

West Kelowna Council also received good news from Minister Stone regarding its ongoing interest in securing advance left-turn lanes at key intersections of Highway 97 through West Kelowna.

“Minister Stone advised us that the one remaining intersection we are concerned about, Daimler Drive, will have advance left-turn signals installed in 2015,” says Mayor Findlater. “West Kelowna has been advocating for these signal installations and has watched several installed. We are very pleased with this news as I am hard pressed to remember a fatal accident at any of the intersections that have been improved in this way.”

Mayor Findlater said Council suggested to Minister Stone that right turn lanes be extended at key intersections to avoid motorists having to wait for through traffic to clear in order to turn right off Highway 97.

Council also discussed new off-road vehicle licensing legislation with Minister Thomson.

“We were advised that the roll-out of the legislation, involving registration and licensing of off-road vehicles, will take place this fall. Eventually there will be enforcement by the RCMP and Conservation Officers,” says Mayor Findlater. “West Kelowna has long advocated for this to protect our watershed, and we have heard often from residents that are concerned with noise, pollution and fire safety. This is welcome news for West Kelowna Council.”

West Kelowna Council also reiterated to Minister Thomson its interest in securing Crown Land grants for municipal purposes and Mayor Findlater said that progress is being made.



School zones back in session

After a extended summer vacation school is back in session.

Students and parents alike were excited about the start to a new year, as they hurried down sidewalks toward the brand new Mar Jok Elementary in West Kelowna.

Children told Castanet they were looking forward to getting inside the new school, as well as meeting new friends and catching up with old classmates.

One boy says he can’t wait to find out who his new teachers is and who will be in his class for the year.

With the opening of the new elementary, a new school zone was put in place for drivers. RCMP officers alongside parent volunteers were out in full force early Monday morning to ensure children could safely cross the street on the way to class as well as guide drivers in the right direction.

“It’s a brand new school zone and there are some route changes because of construction through this area. So, there is a lot of traffic this morning, basically detoured through the school zone,” says Cst. Kris Clark.

Construction on Westlake Road had traffic detouring along McDougall Road, but only two drivers were flagged over by officers during the school speed zone enforcement.

“The biggest one really is speeding,” says Clark about infractions in school zones. “It’s 30 km/h from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in a school zone. It’s very easy to go over that speed limit of 30, but it’s obviously in place for the children.”

Fines for speeding in a school zone start in the second tier of $196 and go up from there.

RCMP enforcement officers will be in school zones throughout the city for the rest of the week to enforce the 30 km an hour limit and encourage drivers to slow down.





New cell tower?

A proposed cell tower has some West Kelowna residents wondering why they weren't consulted before the project moves ahead.

Rogers Wireless has secured a plot of land on the Mt Boucherie Estate Winery for a new 20 metre tall monopole. 

A monopole is a type of cell tower that contains all the wires and hardware within a single pole. The proposed construction would be six storeys tall.

According to Rogers documents, "Due to increased demand for improved wireless service, Rogers is required to locate an appropriate site within the District of West Kelowna to improve service in the community."

"Cavalier Land Ltd, as agents for Rogers Communications Inc has secured an appropriate site for Rogers."

The "appropriate site" is Mt Boucherie Estate Winery at 829 Douglas Road in West Kelowna. 

Ivona Shehurek lives across the street from the winery and proposed site. She says only two streets nearby were notified of the construction and has started a petition asking for public consultation, so locals can try and get the tower moved.

"My property value will go down with a tower like that," she said. "I have a little bit of lake view and that would be obstructed by the tower." 

She said in two days she has gotten 80 signatures from neighbours who would be affected by the construction, but were not consulted. 

Terrie Anderson who lives in the neighbourhood said she first learned of the proposed construction Thursday night. 

"For me, its the lack of public consultation," she said. "It shouldn't be in the middle of a residential area."

She added some of the neighbours have young children and are concerned about possible radiation emissions from the monopole.

The Rogers documentation goes on to say that the District of West Kelowna established that all stakeholders within 170 metres of the base of the tower had to be consulted prior to construction.

However, according to a simulation of the proposed tower, it appears to be situated so far inside Mt Boucherie Estate Winery property as to have excluded most neighbours from consultation.

"All of my Douglas Road neighbours, none of them knew about it and none of them want it," said Shehurek.

Rogers Communications and the District of West Kelowna could not be immediately reached for comment on Saturday.

Would you be affected by a cell tower in this location? Contact us at [email protected]



Grass fire human caused

A bong may be to blame for a small grass fire that had crews worried dry conditions and high winds could have caused flames to spread, on Friday afternoon.

“It was very dry and there was a lot of wind, it was a wind driven fire,” explains West Kelowna Fire Captain Bob Peters.

The fire in the 1900 block of Abel road grew to 15 metres by 15 metres but was quickly knocked down by crews.

“When we got on scene there were a number of residents already out with their hoses,” says Peters. “Our crews were able to stretch lines quickly and knock it down.”

Neighbours tell Castanet they saw people camping in the area right before the fire broke out and wonder if it may have been a cigarette.

“There was flames but a lot more smoke than flames, now it is all out thank goodness,” shares Neighbour Sheri Servant.

Police investigators on the scene say they discovered a bong and were later witnessed speaking to several people with backpacks.

The fire is currently under investigation and is suspected to be human caused.

“Right now we just want to encourage the public to make sure they are aware it is still dry and summer conditions still exist, especially in the back country here.”

West Kelowna Fire would like to remind residents that it is still dry in the forests despite periodic rain and cooler temperatures.

-- With files from Trevor Rockliffe 


Slope safety still a concern

The BC Safety Authority has completed the data collection and analysis phase of their investigation into the Crystal Mountain ski resort in West Kelowna.

A full report is expected later this fall, which is expected to discuss how the following factors contributed to the incident:

  • Condition of the tensioning system
  • Configuration of the rope-catching device installed at the tower where the deropement occurred.
  • Placement of the tower that experienced the deropement relative to other towers and loading area.

Four skiers had to be taken to hospital after the full deropement of a double chairlift sent three chairs crashing to the ground March 1, 2014.

“Most incidents are the result of numerous factors and the investigation report that BCSA is preparing will discuss those factors in detail,” says Jason Gill, BCSA Safety Manager of Passenger Ropeways and Amusement Devices.

The onsite portion of the investigation was concluded in June, with the BCSA issuing a number of instructions and requirements to Crystal Mountain in July. That work was not completed, according to the BCSA, and the mountain itself announced this past weekend they would not be opening for the 2014/2015 ski season.

As of Sept. 19, the mountain’s operating license is still suspended. It will not be reissued until the safety authority is satisfied that all safety standards have been met.

“We will grant a full operating permit only once we are satisfied that the lifts at Crystal Mountain Resort are safe for passengers,” says Gill. “With the ski season around the corner, the public should be very confident that ski lifts in the province are safe.”

The BCSA goes on to say that ski lift incidents of this nature are quite uncommon and the number of reported injuries from passenger ropeways has been steadily declining since 2009.

RCMP will target school zones

With confirmation that public schools will be back in session next week, the RCMP are reminding motorists that school zones will once again be in effect.

Members of the West Kelowna RCMP will be conducting traffic safety and parking blitzes in school zones beginning Monday, Sept. 22. They will be looking to ticket speeders, and watching for distracted drivers and parking violators.

The speed limit through school zones is typically 30 kilometres per hour from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. on school days, unless otherwise posted.

Commuters in West Kelowna should also be aware of construction continuing on  Westlake Road, a main route to the new Mar Jok Elementary School in Rose Valley.

Motorists are reminded to use the detour route via McDougall Road until Westlake Road is fully open in October. Pedestrians can use McDougall Road or, if coming from the Caledonia subdivision, can take a pedestrian walkway up through the neighbourhood to access Westlake Road above the construction zone via Sunview Drive. A new pedestrian crossing light has been installed at the intersection of Rosewood Drive and Westlake Road.

Drivers are also reminded that when a school bus turns on its flashing red lights, vehicles in all lanes, in both directions, must stop.

Dog handler recounts chase

An RCMP dog handler, whose vehicle was rammed and shot at during a chase on Westside Road two years ago, took the stand Thursday in the attempted murder trial of Michael Edward Ellis.

The court heard from Cpl. Richard Gingras, who was travelling southbound on Westside Road from Vernon in an attempt to head off the suspect’s vehicle on July 31, 2012. Gingras had already heard over his radio that officers had been shot at, and was speeding down the road in an attempt to close the gap in case they tried to turn off onto a side road.

As he neared the lead vehicles, Gingras decided to turn around and begin slowly heading north, to ensure he would stay as a lead vehicle in the event he would need to release his dog Maco for any kind of foot pursuit.

“I was expecting (police) backup behind the truck,” said Gingras. “I turned around and waited for him to get close.”

He listened over the radio as reports flooded in that the suspects had car jacked several vehicles and were now traveling in a black pickup truck. He soon saw the vehicle in his side view mirror coming up fast, and Gingras blocked both lanes of traffic as the truck attempted to pass him.

All of his emergency equipment was deactivated, the court heard, as Gingras didn’t want the suspects to know he was police. This appeared to work, as he told the court that the driver of the black truck even waved at him at one point, in an attempt to get Gingras out of the way.

During this time Gingras was on the radio, letting other officers know the suspect was now behind him near La Casa Resort on Westside Road. As traffic began to increase, Gingras activated his emergency lights, and that’s when he says someone in the truck began shooting at him.

The officer told the court he saw the driver of the truck stick a rifle out the window, and the next thing he knew, his back window had been shot out.

“And I realized I was getting shot at,” Gringas told the court.

"I remember clearly seeing what looked like an assault rifle come out of the driver side window of the truck.”

Gingras hunched over the wheel and sped up, yelling at Maco to get down too. He immediately radioed in that he was under fire, and remembers at least one officer saying, “Hang on. We’re coming.”

It’s unclear how many times Gingras was fired upon, but he heard several shots, at least seven. And then the truck began to ram his unmarked SUV at speeds of up to 100 kilometres per hour.

There were two men in the truck, said Gingras. Both were Caucasian, but he could not recall their faces.

Another officer told him to get off the road, but Gingras believed that would make him a sitting duck if the men in the black truck decided to again open fire, so he continued heading north towards Vernon at high speed.

Gingras told the court he was “surprised” that no other police vehicles had caught up to the suspects by this time, and remarked “it felt good” when he finally saw another officer in his mirror.

Soon after he heard other officers were setting up a spike belt ahead, and recalls the passenger front tire blowing out on the black truck as it rolled over. Another spike strip shredded a tire on the driver’s side, but the truck continued rolling north on its rims and rammed him again.

The RCMP’s Emergency Response Team was also set up down the road, but were unable to stop the truck either.

“Well I hoped they were going to throw some rounds (at the truck),” said Gingras, who told the court he was again “disappointed” when the truck kept going.

“I expected the windshield to be gone or something.”

Gingras had attempted to organize a roadblock at the junction of Westside Road and Highway 97 near Vernon, but due to substandard radio communications it was inefficient and the truck continued on until it finally stopped near Swan Lake.

Three people, including Ellis were arrested at the scene.

He faces 22 charges including multiple charges of attempted murder.

The trial continues Friday.

Few leads in clubhouse fire

Well over a year after the clubhouse at Shannon Lake Golf course was destroyed by fire, police still have few leads.

They are now asking the public for information, particularly in regards to a newer, dark coloured Chevrolet Suburban seen near the golf course at the time of the fire.

It was only a few days after the blaze on May 11 of last year that fire investigators determined the cause to be suspicious, and an arson investigation was launched by the RCMP.

The fire started around 1 a.m. and quickly spread into the clubhouse, destroying a significant portion of the building that had stood for 25 years.

A temporary pro shop was opened after the fire, and a new clubhouse is currently being built in the same location.

Anyone with information is asked to call Cst. Mike Taylor with the West Kelowna RCMP at 250-768-2880. Or callers can remain anonymous by calling Crime Stoppers.

Pedestrian hit crossing road

First responders were called to the scene of a pedestrian struck by a vehicle in West Kelowna on Tuesday evening.

Two people tried crossing Highway 97 near the Home Depot when one person was struck by a brown SUV travelling south.

That person rolled up onto the hood of the vehicle, smashing the windshield, and was taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries

The second person, who did not appear to be injured, was arrested at the scene by police.

Authorities are still investigating.

There is no crosswalk where the incident took place, and no charges are expected to be laid against the driver.

We’ll have more details when they become available.

-- With files from Trevor Rockliffe


Grant-in-aid deadline nears

Not-for-profit community service organizations are reminded that they have until October 31, 2014 to submit Grants in Aid applications to the District of West Kelowna.

Mayor and Council recognize that not-for-profit community organizations and agencies provide valuable contributions to the municipality.

Each year, Council carefully considers the applications from many worthy nonprofit groups and balances their requests for support with the municipality’s needs to provide programs, services and infrastructure at low cost to taxpayers.

Grants in Aid application forms can be found online.

Organizations must provide:

  • The list of services they provide to the community;
  • The amount of financial assistance required;
  • The benefits in the community that would result from the grant, if approved;
  • A detailed proposed budget for the current year and a list of all other grants and donations received; and,
  • Financial statements from the immediately preceding fiscal year.

For further information please contact the Finance Manager at (778) 797-8802.

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