Residents made it clear at an RDOS meeting held Tuesday night in Oliver, that the loss of signs by Highway 97 will negatively impact their businesses.
One after another, they stood up to speak passionately about the highway signage enforcement project planned for south of Oliver down to Osoyoos.
"All of those signs down on the highway are from hard working people who have made the South Okanagan what it is," said Jim Moore, owner of Road 6 B& B. "Those signs make our businesses work, without them my business would be zero."
The RDOS held the meeting at the Oliver Community Centre to advise people of the project they are undertaking and to hear their questions, concerns and statements of support.
Information boards were set up in the room and a power point presentation was given on the project by RDOS and Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure representatives.
"This is a chance to speak in an open forum and depending on what happens and how the RDOS board feels, we could have a public hearing," said Area C director Allan Patton.
Details provided by the representatives, included that the initiative was started by the RDOS in late 2012 due to public complaints and directors' concerns.
Most of the concerns were based on visual clutter and road safety.
A partnership was subsequently formed with the ministry and an enforcement strategy established in 2013.
The first phase from Road 1 to 21, south of Oliver, kicked off in early 2014. The second phase will be from Road 21 to the US border.
Information posted for people to read as they entered the room was on RDOS signage provisions and Highway Right of Way signage, the enforcement process and consultation on the matter.
Included in the highway right of way signage is standard traffic signs, service and attraction signs, wine route program, exceptions such as service clubs and churches and temporary real estate signs for properties adjacent to the highway.
The problem being, according to Jeff Wiseman with the ministry, that for some years they have allowed the number of signs in the right of way to go unchecked, with the result being the number of signs has proliferated.
"Sheer volume has become a distraction," he said. "With the number of signs taking away from more important signs."
Despite the explanation, many residents seemed confused by what the RDOS was trying to do, while others asked what kind of research had been done to back up the safety claims.
A few drew attention to dangerous stretches of highway in the area, saying the RDOS should be looking at that instead of cracking down on signs.
Still, time and time again, it was the worry about the impact on businesses they spoke up about.
"We have a very small window to cash in on and we need to attract everybody on the highway," said Randy Toor with Desert Hills Estate Winery. "Let us have nice neat signs on private property."
Greg Thorp, the owner of Riverside Garden Centre in Oliver, described the sign removal effort as discrimination.
"They are coming after us because we are farmers, low hanging fruit," he said.
The meeting grew heated at times, with Patton asking people to be quiet and wait their turns to speak.
He, as well as other representatives listened carefully to the concerns, with Patton telling the crowd, 'Somehow we have to find something that works for everybody.'
Still, he added, aesthetics are important and there is no getting around that.
"This is a beautiful area," he said. "If we see signage after signage, no one is seeing the area."