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Oil issues cause local layoffs

The recent slow down in the Alberta oil patch is being blamed for a run of layoffs at Britco in Penticton.

In the past couple of months, 60 people have been laid off at the modular building construction facility on Government Avenue.

Sixty people accounts for 39 per cent of Britco's local workforce.

"We are experiencing a slow down as a result of the oil and gas industry," said Leigh Ann Shoji-Lee, vice president of shared services with Britco in Langley. Shoji-Lee also noted that Britco's competition is having similar issues.

"It's not all just oil and gas, but we're finished with all dorms for oil and gas projects out of Fort McMurray," she said.  

"We're hopeful that we can bring them back, but it all depends on work coming in and there are definitely cascading effects from just the price of oil."

Penticton Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said any job loss, no matter the number, hurts Penticton.

"Hopefully the slowdown is short lived and those affected can quickly get back to work," said Jakubeit. "We are fortunate that our niche manufacturing sector is not solely tied to oil and gas, but it certainly is a large direct and indirect segment of the economy. 

These ripple effects of the storm hopefully will pass soon."

Many recent projects for Britco have been constructing workforce accommodations for the oil and gas industry. 

Shoji-Lee said they also have a contract with Manitoba Hydro, but that has not yet been finalized. 

Britco has been known to do other work outside of the oil and gas industry, such as schools, offices, residential complexes, restaurants and even banks. 

Asked whether this is the end of the cuts, Shoji-Lee said she couldn't be certain.

"We are looking at other industries to bid on work and hopefully win work to fill the plants," Shoji-Lee said. "If we get a project tomorrow, it might be different - but we have to look at (bringing people back) in terms of orders and manage accordingly, so it's hard to say."

There have also been layoffs at the Britco plant in Edmonton. 

Shoji-Lee said Britco is appreciative of the support it receives from the Penticton community.


Boonstock's uncertain legacy

Despite being popular among festival-goers, Boonstock leaves behind an uncertain legacy in Penticton.

On Thursday afternoon, Boonstock productions announced on its Facebook page that it would not be returning to the valley this summer. 

The announcement got 383 likes, 337 shares and 442 comments.

"I thought it was pretty fun, and the music was good too with excellent sound quality, really just pretty awesome overall," Justin Rao, 22, of Calgary told Castanet at the end of the party last year.

"Sad, sad day. To Colin Kobza and the rest of us that lived breathed and loved Boonstock you will be truly missed by all. It's been 6 of the greatest years and made the best memories anyone could ever ask for," said Ryan Beaver Doherty on Facebook.

"Sorry, but I went for my first time last year. And left a night early even with my vip passes. Worst festival ever," said Joshua Noseworthy on Facebook.

There were many issues at the festival; a young woman died, there was not enough water, security was lacking and caused trouble in Penticton and the $176,901.10 RCMP bill is still outstanding.

The Ministry of Justice told Castanet that "since issuing its invoice last September, the province has remained in contact with Boonstock’s promoter, which had proposed making payments over three years.

To date, however, the province has not received any payment."

However, the influx of young people was a boon to the local economy.

Penticton Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said "I'm disappointed that that 7,000 plus people that attended from outside our City won't be coming back to experience our beautiful area."

"Hopefully another promoter and the locatee owners can partner to provide another festival as the site has tremendous potential. The event was a good boost to our tourism industry and local businesses."

Jakubeit said there were no outstanding issues between Boonstock and the city since the festival was held on locatee and Penticton Indian Band lands.

PIB Chief Jonathan Kruger said he had no comment on the matter at this time.

Boonstock's organizer Colin Kobza, did not respond to requests for interview by this story's deadline.

Alibi of an accused killer

John Ike Koopmans was out on a drunken walk to a friend's house at the time Keith Wharton and Rosemary Fox were shot to death, B.C. Supreme Court heard Friday. 

Koopmans is on trial for the first-degree murder of Wharton and Fox, and the attempted murder of Bradley Martin on a rural property near Princeton in March 2013. 

The second day of Koopmans' testimony covered why Wharton's blood was on Koopmans' jeans and how he was found asleep in a camper at the scene of the shooting. 

Koopmans appeared calm on the stand and frequently chuckled as he responded to questions from defence counsel Donald Skogstad and Crown Counsel Frank Dubenski. 

He described getting Wharton's blood on his jeans as they were sorting through lumber they had salvaged from a tractor-trailer crash back in the Spring of 2012.

According to Koopmans' testimony, on about the 20th of March, 2013, he and Wharton were trying to find the best of the remaining lumber when Wharton got a sliver through his gloves. 

"I held his arm under my arm and he was bleeding quite a bit, it was a big sliver," Koopmans told the court. "I pulled his glove off, pulled the sliver out. He was dripping blood onto the load of wood in front of us, and his dog...a little small dog was jumping around the blood and licking it up... and then he sneezed on us."

"It got me in the face and on my clothing, my pants."

Moving on to how he came to be at the scene of the shooting, Koopmans said he and his girlfriend Elaine Hoiland had been drinking all day and preparing an Easter dinner of steak and crab legs when they got in a fight.

Koopmans said he had been borrowing cigarettes from Hoiland all day and had promised to buy some. He asked her to bring him to the grocery store where he bought dinner supplies and the liquor store for alcohol, but he forgot the cigarettes. 

Hoiland, however, did not forget and when he asked for another one, she got mad at him.

"I had promise that I would buy a pack when I was at Coopers, and I forgot, but Elaine had bought some on her credit card and I asked to borrow another one," Koopmans said with a chuckle. "She was a bit upset about that, because I promised that I would buy some for her, and myself, so I wouldn't have to keep borrowing all night.

I got kind of angry at her. I was drinking, I guess, and I said some stupid things."

"Were you drunk, then?" Skogstad asked.

"I guess," Koopmans replied.

After that Koopmans said he grabbed his bottle of vodka and stormed out. He claimed he didn't grab his keys or his cell phone, he only retrieved his leather jacket from his car. 

He was heading to Wharton's place, where he said he often went if he and Hoiland had disagreements.

"If I made a fool of myself or said stupid things, I just gave it a couple days before I came back," he said. 

Koopmans said it was around 9 p.m. on March 30, 2013 when he got to Wharton's house. The lights were out, but it was Saturday so he figured that Wharton and Fox were out somewhere.

Instead of going to sleep in his camper on the property, he headed off to another acquaintance's house for a visit. 

Having never walked to the acquaintance's house before, he walked somewhat aimlessly trying to find it, passing Wharton's house as he went.  After failing to find the home, he turned back toward Wharton's and the location of his camper.

"When I got to just before Keith's the yard was full of RCMP cars," Koopmans said. "I thought it was Keith getting busted again."

Koopmans said Wharton had been busted for trafficking cocaine in the past.

"I didn't want to get involved in that, plus I had the bottle of vodka," he said. "I walked around back to my camper and went to sleep."

Despite the yard full of RCMP cars, Koopmans said he emptied his pockets of drill bits, some loose change and two $5 bills, because "it would not have been comfortable to sleep with drill bits in my pocket."

He did not remove any articles of clothing, or his steel-toed boots before going to sleep, he said.

Also in the camper was a bag of licorice, porn magazines, an empty bottle of pills and an empty bottle of vodka. 

The next thing he remembers is being awoken by Cpl. Brian Burke on the morning of Sunday, March 31, moments before he was arrested for the murder of Wharton and Fox. 

Crown Counsel Frank Dubenski began poking holes in Koopmans' testimony before the lunch break. 

The trial will continue on Monday. 


PIB earns recognition

The Penticton Indian Band Development Corporation continues to get recognition for economic strides it has made in recent years.

The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business has named the PIB winners of the Aboriginal Economic Development Corporation Award for 2015.

“Congratulations to the Penticton Indian Band Development Corporation for demonstrating the vision and courage in the world of business essential for business success,” said CCAB President and CEO JP Gladu. “The Aboriginal Economic Development Corporation of the Year Award proudly gives all Canadians an opportunity to learn more about Aboriginal business success and its role in creating business certainty and sustainable prosperity.”

The Penticton Indian Band Reserve is the largest reserve in British Columbia- 46,000 acres with a current population of 1,034 members. The  development corporation, PIBDC, is the principal economic development, marketing and promotional organization for the PIB.

It further exists to ensure the certainty of the PIB's traditional values and provide a sustainable economic return.

"It is a huge honour to receive this award and gives us confidence we are doing some really good things here," said PIB Chief Jonathan Kruger. "And I'm proud of our PIBDC for the hard work that they're doing for our community and proud of our community for giving us a strong mandate to move forward.

It is very important to be more self sufficient because government funding doesn't provide for our needs."

Development on PIB land includes the Skaha Hlls development, with recent announcements concerning Phase 2, and the fish hatchery, which was a $9 million project.

More recently, construction began on a bridge across the river channel, and Kruger said they will soon release some of the drawings of what the channel could potentially look like.

"We really want to market those lands and work with locatees along the channel," he said.

Getting to where they are currently at took hard work on the part of the PIB council, according to the chief.

"I want to say I'm really proud of the leadership of our council, taking steps forward for the vision of our community, which takes a lot of hard work," he said. "We are doing great things."


Kaylee benefit concert

Local band Cosmic Brew has been embraced by the community, and now the band wants to give back.

On Saturday, the band, comprised of Kris Marsel, bass player, Mason Burns, lead guitar and vocals, and Thomas Hunter, drums, will join forces with Skaha Ford for a fundraiser for Kaylee Kozari-Bowland.

Kaylee, a Penticton teen, has been battling cancer for months, generating an outpouring of support in the community.

While Cosmic Brew, along with other musicians will perform to help Kaylee, Skaha Ford has been instrumental in providing the location, signage, food and the stage, as well as a cash contribution. Several of the salespeople are donating commissions and time to the cause.

There will be hot dogs, pop and balloons at the event, as well as plenty of music.

The event is free, but people are being encouraged to donate and help out.

The fund-raiser will be held from noon to 4 p.m., Saturday at Skaha Ford, 198 Parkway Place in Penticton. 

Accused killer testifies

The man accused of shooting three people two years ago, told a Penticton courtroom he was a close friend of one of the victims right up to his death.

John Ike Koopmans, 51, formerly of Princeton, began telling his side of the story, Thursday afternoon.

He is accused of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Robert Keith Wharton, 43, and Rosemary Fox, 32, and the attempted murder of Bradley Martin, 50, on March 30, 2013, at a rural Princeton property.

The accused testified he met Wharton before Wharton's father died, and they became good friends. They shared an interest in welding at Wharton's property on Old Hedley Road.

Wharton made decent money welding, but he lost enthusiasm for it because he found the drug scene more interesting, Koopmans told the court. Eventually, people stopped coming in because the work wasn't getting done.

When asked by defence lawyer Don Skogstad about Martin's relationship with the two of them, Koopmans said it was one of jealousy.

He said when he would visit the Wharton property, they would hang out in the bedroom. Martin would come to the door, and Wharton would tell him to beat it.

At times, the witness recalled, he loaned Wharton money to pay for drugs, specifically crack cocaine, that was allegedly bought from Martin.

Koopmans agreed to pay for the drugs, he explained, because Wharton had helped him out with his own drinking issue.

In respect to an earlier break and enter in February 2013, he testified he did not have a handgun at the time.

In earlier years, he had a .357 Magnum, but he cut it up because he didn't have registration papers and felt he could lose his hunter's licence if caught with it. Koopmans said has since asked people to look for it on his property, but it was never found.

He denied going down by the Similkameen River on March 30 or 31, or having a handgun in his hands on those dates.

When Skogstad asked if he committed the crimes he is charged with, Koopmans responded: "No."

His relationship with Wharton was friendly, he said, even after the break in. He explained it was another man who had taken the guns from his house and then returned them to Wharton, the original owner.

Other items taken included a mountain bike, food and some clothing. A Winchester rifle and a second gun were left behind.

A woman, who cannot be identified because of a publication ban, was the first witness for the defence.

She stated she started dating Koopmans about the summer of 2012 and was his girlfriend for four or five months.

She spent a lot of time hanging out with him at the Wharton property, and said everyone in town knew Wharton was a drug dealer and that his girlfriend, Fox, would do anything for drugs.

She said Wharton's drug use was hard on Koopmans, who had promised Wharton's father when he died that he would take care of him. The woman said it was hard, too, for Koopmans to see Wharton selling, pawning everything, to get drugs, while the welding business went downhill.

Koopmans' testimony will continue Friday.

Boonstock leaves town

Boonstock Productions has just announced the music festival will not be held in Penticton this summer.

"It is with a heavy heart that Boonstock Productions Inc. would like to inform you that the Boonstock Music & Arts Festival will not be returning to Penticton, B.C., in 2015," reads the Boonstock Facebook page. 

"We appreciate all the love and support we have received from all you Boonstockers over the last 10 years and are proud of the festival, its many volunteers, workers, sponsors and festival attendees."

The post gave no explanation as to why it would not be returning to Penticton.

Boonstock was held in Penticton for the first time last summer after 10 years in Gibbons, Alta.

A young woman died at the festival, among 80 others hospitalized at the 8,000-person festival. 

At the time, police told reporters it was a suspected overdose of a party drug such as MDMA, although they said it would take tests to discover exactly what happened. 

Although the festival took place in August, by November all the bills had yet to be paid

Boonstock organizers could not be reached for comment Thursday.

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