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.