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Sign removal debated

An announcement by the Ministry of Transportation regarding sign removal by Highway 97 in the South Okanagan, was not well-received by some RDOS board directors on Thursday.

Rural Oliver director Allan Patton was particularly incensed, after district manager Murray Tekano told the board, via a phone call, that given the time of year, the ministry feels strong enforcement would be challenging.

They will continue with the focus on safety, with greater enforcement in the fall. The belief being this will be less impactful to local business owners as they move into their busy season.

Patton's concerns were twofold that he had already met with Minister Stone regarding the matter and that he felt the board was not consulted on this latest plan.

"If you are deferring a decision, enforcement, until later in the fall, you made this decision without consulting our staff here or the board," he said. "That is really problematic for me. And when you say, later in the fall, that is election time. We will not be dealing with this then and the board will not be dealing with this next year.

Basically this whole agreement is over."

Patton further questioned what was meant by immediate safety concerns.

"What does that mean you move some and not others," he said. "You see the dilemma here, this is not good. I've talked to the press and said we are proceeding and staff has letters ready to go out."

In response to Patton's questions, Tekano said the ministry believes the partnership can continue and that there will not be a large scale sign removal between now and the fall, but they will address areas where they feel public safety is at risk.

"We are not abandoning any partnership, but we are addressing an implementation strategy," he said.

The decision to move in this direction was made after a public meeting, and he apologized it was not brought to the board more formally.

Patton said his next step would be to talk more to the minister regarding the matter.

A sign removal initiative was started by the RDOS in late 2012 due to public complaints and directors' concerns.

A partnership was subsequently formed with the ministry and an enforcement strategy established in 2013.

The first phase is from Road 1 to 21, south of Oliver. The second is from Road 21 to the US Border.

There has been some support for the plan, but several business owners believe the removal will negatively impact their businesses.

There was a big turnout for a March meeting in Oliver on the issue, where many residents expressed concerns about the effort and how it will affect them.

Donna Butler, development services manager for the RDOS, said they were ready to send out another set of letters this month, but will be holding off, because the ministry is just focusing on safety issues, not complete removal.

The ministry stated in a later email that they are committed to work with the regional district to reduce unauthorized signage with a focus on minimizing the impact to local businesses.

 



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No mountain of trouble

An owner of Apex Mountain Resort confirmed Thursday that the group that owns the ski area is considering a sale, but it's not because of financial troubles.

Ted Garnett, a Penticton businessman, said the fact the partners are ready to retire is more of a factor.

"Apex is run by a small group, basically three partners," he said. "We are all reaching retirement age and that's the reason we are considering selling."

Garnett said business was up 5.3 percent as of the end of February for the 2013-2014 ski season, and they don't have the numbers yet for March and April, which were also good.

As far as the sale, an ad was placed in The Globe and Mail about a month ago just to test the waters.

A few people have looked at it, so far, and there are a few prospects in the wings.

"We are in no hurry, it's just time," said Garnett, of the group, which purchased the ski area, west of Penticton, in October of 1997.

David Lynn, president and CEO of Canada West Ski Areas Association, said he is aware that Apex has been open to offers.

It is also interesting that people would equate a sale as a sign a business was in trouble, he added.

"It doesn't indicate a resort is in trouble, it just indicates the owners have decided they want to divest," he said. "It's like selling a home, there are all sorts of reasons people sell a home."

Lynn added Apex's situation is not comparable to what happened at Mt. Baldy, a smaller ski area near Oliver. Baldy, owned by a group in Idaho, did not open at all this season.

"With smaller resorts it is much more challenging to break even," he said. "While Apex would be considered more of a destination resort."

Lynn admitted that although it was a challenging year for some BC ski areas, that does not mean the ski industry is dying.

"Ski areas in the Okanagan and interior had a very good year, this year," he said.



Trashed for killing bears

Two days after a momma bear and her cubs were shot and killed in Summerland, neighbours are still fuming.

They say this is just another case of conservation officers choosing to destroy, rather than relocate, neighbourhood wildlife.

Locals, Claudette Murti and Tena Beattie, had seen the bear and her two cubs around the neighbourhood and both knew the bears' fate when they heard the fatal gunshot sounds on Monday. They are both disgusted the bears were not given the chance to relocate.

“I heard the gun shots and it was just so loud I jumped out of my skin. I was hoping that they were tranquilized, but later found out they were indeed killed and I was really heartbroken by it,” said Murti.

“They are living beings, they have as much right to be on this planet as we do, their creator is our creator.”

“I heard two gun shots, and I have never heard a gun shot before it was so loud, so I ran outside and we realized what it was,” explained Beattie. “It is very sad, because that bear and her cubs have been in this neighbourhood for a long time and she has never disturbed anybody.”

Conservation officer Barb Leslie says the bears' general health factored into the conservation department’s decision to put them down, as did the fact the animals continually seek out easy food sources regardless of any proximity to humans.

The explanation doesn't cut it with the locals.

“They said they made a decision that they needed to be put down because of their ill health, but is he a veterinarian? How can you really tell by looking? Especially because my neighbours saw them playing in their backyard the day before, and climbing up and down trees, would a sick bear really be doing that?” questioned Murti.

Murti's husband Vince Murti shared the same sentiment on what he calls a gutless shooting.

“The point is, who are you to decide? Why can we not, as human beings, let Mother Nature take its course. If that is supposed to happen in the wilderness then let it happen. What gives you the right to pick up a gun? Just because you have the authority and power to do so you decide I am god and I am doing this and that is what really really pisses me off and that is not right,” argued Vince Murti.

“They should have been darted and relocated. I heard they cannot be relocated because of other bear territories, and they don’t want to place them in danger in another bear territory. But instead they decided to play god and kill them themselves rather than letting them duke it out in the wild and giving them a fair chance,” added Claudette Murti.

“They could have relocated them. They said they were not healthy, but they were fine,” said Beattie.

Conservation says the bears had made the area home because of the ample supply of garbage and these bears were specifically caught pulling garbage out of a pickup truck in a lot rented by Rob Earle.

“A customer's pick-up was out in the yard and I hadn't had a chance to work on it and the bears came down and opened the canopy and got in and took the garbage out that was in there. I guess some other people had been leaving their garbage around as well,” said Earle.

He says he understands conservation had to do what they did for the safety of the neighbourhood.

“I think you have to at that point, they are basically a predatory animal right now and the fact they are going into a car like that they can get into balconies and shops and do whatever they want,” said Earle.

Conservation officers are pleading with the public again to be more vigilant about cleaning up after themselves and preventing issues like this from occurring.



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Shed fire at motel

A small shed fire broke out on the property of the Swiss Sunset Inn, late Tuesday night, but the blaze did not extend to the motel itself.

According to witnesses at the scene, three fire engines and two-dozen firefighters converged on the scene.

Management at the motel confirms that the building was not affected and it is open for business as usual.



3 bears put down

A mother bear and her two cubs were killed on Monday after they had been seen living off of garbage in Summerland, with no fear of human interaction.

Conservation officer Barb Leslie says they have been getting calls about bears coming out of hibernation at the lower elevations since early March, but this case was a little different.

“That sow and cubs had denned up in a culvert in Lower Summerland. We had started receiving sightings of them being out of the culvert around mid-March. The cubs had actually lost their fear of people and were getting into a lot of garbage,” explained Leslie.

“The hillside was littered with the garbage and any place we could see where they bedded down, there was all garbage around it.”

Leslie says they were called out Monday to a property near the Summerland Waterfront Resort & Spa. Evidently the cubs had been going in and out of a pickup truck canopy, where the garbage had been stored.

“(The sow) went out looking for easy food and taught her cubs how to find easy food. And because the hillsides haven’t really greened up yet, the garbage was a high calorie source for them. So they got very quickly habituated to the garbage and its unfortunate that we had to put down the whole family unit.”

The general health of the animals factored into the conservation department’s decision to put them down, as did the bears decisions to continually seek out easy food sources regardless of any proximity to humans.

Leslie also points out the female bear was estimated to be around 250 pounds, or very large for a bear who had supposedly just awoken from a winter hibernation. Meanwhile the cubs were estimated to be around 50 pounds each. This was considered small for bears that were in their second year.

“She obviously didn’t hibernate,” says Leslie, who theorizes the bear had been eating garbage all winter.

“We know we’re not popular with the people in that community, but with facing public safety issues, the decision was made. We have to protect the public and unfortunately in this situation for the bears, the garbage killed them."

Leslie also offered up some tips that the public can use to ensure animals don’t wind up in the same predicament.

  • Keep garbage locked up until the morning of pick-up.
  • Don’t leave anything available in your yard.
  • Keep the area inhospitable to bears.

Conservation officers are keeping an eye on a handful of other bears in the area, but Leslie says those animals have posed no risk to the public at this time, and have not come down looking for easy food.

Send photos and video of the Summerland bears to [email protected]



Acquittal in waste case

Two men from the Penticton area facing charges related to the burning of demolition waste were acquitted in a Penticton courtroom on Tuesday.

Douglas Cotter, of Cotter's Bin and Demolition Service Ltd. and Penticton Indian Band member Eneas Kruger faced charges of introducing activity related waste into the environment in April of 2011.

In handing down her decision, Judge Meg Shaw described the circumstances of the case, which were part of a four day trial.

According to Shaw, conservation officers conducted surveillance and saw the transportation of demolition materials by a truck  from the Naramata packinghouse to Kruger's salvage yard.

On April 28, she stated two conservation officers observed a truck dumping materials on Kruger's land and took video. That video showed a fire burning in the vicinity.

Another witness also took photos, after following a Cotter's truck to the Kruger property.

Although witnesses stated they saw materials loaded into the fire, Shaw said there was inconclusive evidence as to what was specifically burning.

Furthermore, she stated the crown had failed to prove the smoke was from the burning of demolition materials and that any resulting smoke falls in the definition of air pollution.

She determined Kruger had indeed taken all reasonable care and believed he was complying with Penticton Indian Band regulations.

She added, the PIB has confirmed they are dealing with Kruger directly on the burning of material.

Cotter was acquitted on the same basis.

Following the decision, defence lawyer Charles Albas said the issue was very complicated, because the activity the men were charged with took place on PIB land.

"The province was trying to apply its waste management to an activity on the indian reserve, which is the exclusive right of the federal government," he said. "The Cotter company would bring material for many years, and he (Kruger), would recycle the wood, metal and steel. The only thing he burned was straight wood."

Cotter called the process a waste of time, and said he was relieved the trial was over.

"It's really good," he said. "We've been missing work, and it has had a huge financial effect on us and Eneas Kruger."

Alex Louie, the agent for Kruger, said they were happy with the decision but dissapointed with what happens with their applications in provincial court.

And Kruger said his business has been severely affected.

"Financially, it took a big toll and created family friction," he said. "My wife Gladys Kruger became the sole provider and it put us in huge debt.

Now I have to rebuild my life and the trust of people who worked for me."



No hurdles for new jail

Work is ready to go ahead on the Okanagan Correctional Centre, now that all papers have been signed between the BC government and *Plenary Justice.

Construction will begin in August on the 36-acre site, located just north of Oliver, in the Senkulmen Business Park. The agreement is performance based, with a fixed price of $192.9-million, and will be built on land owned by the Osoyoos Indian Band.

"Reaching a final agreement with Plenary Justice to deliver the Okanagan Correctional Centre project is a catalyst for positive economic spin-offs and the creation of 1,000 direct and indirect jobs for the South Okanagan region,” says Suzanne Anton, Attorney General and Minister of Justice.

“The construction schedule for this modern, high-security correctional centre remains on track, reflecting our government's pledge to ease capacity pressures and build safer, stronger communities."

Under the terms of the agreement Plenary Justice (a private partner for the project) will design, build and partially finance the construction, and provide facilities management services for the OCC for the next 30 years.

The province signed a deal with the OIB last February to lease the land for 60 years, with an option for an additional 20 years to be tacked on later.

This high-security facility will have 378 cells and it’s anticipated the work will be completed in fall of 2016.

*Plenary Justice is a construction consortium that includes:

  • Plenary Group (Canada) Ltd.
  • PCL Constructors Westcoast Inc.
  • Honeywell Limited (Canada)
  • Jug Island Consulting Ltd.


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