Axel Merckx Granfondo bicycle event in Penticton striving forward despite financial uncertainty

Tough times for Granfondo

Penticton's annual Axel Merckx Granfondo Okanagan bicycle endurance event is facing a tough financial reckoning as they grapple with plans to bring the event back in 2021. 

The weekend-long cycling extravaganza has called Penticton home since 2011, drawing an average of 2,600 cyclists and their families to the community, filling hotels and restaurants. 

But the 2020 event was cancelled due to the pandemic, when over 1,600 people had already registered. In a presentation to Penticton council Tuesday, Granfondo event director Jeff Plant said they rolled over registration to 2021. 

"So we now have 1600-plus people with less than half their money to do it with,” Plant told council, and while he did not come with a request for a specific funding help at this meeting, they have been the recipients of City grants in the past. 

Plant pitched that the Granfondo is "the best opportunity that Penticton has to host a major event next year,” given that 97 per cent of its participants are from Canada, meaning any COVID-19 international border restrictions would not cut down on numbers. 

The Granfondo is also not a race in a traditional sense, instead offering three different distances around the South Okanagan for the challenge. Plant said that offers them flexibility to adhere to COVID-19 precautions, like staggered start times and cycling cohorts who don't interact. 

He also hopes to spread the traditional celebrations post-event around town at various restaurants and pubs. 

Council received the presentation for information only and thanked the Granfondo for its contributions to Penticton in the past. 


Penticton cannabis shop petitioning city to stay open later won't be reviewed until next summer

Cannabis hours staying put

Cannabis store operation hours will stay the same in Penticton despite best efforts of a local shop to extend them. 

A letter was presented before council on Tuesday, asking them to review an extension of hours for cannabis retailers. Cannabis Cottage in Penticton's downtown collected approximately 300 signatures in support of the increase.

Currently cannabis stores in Penticton close at 8 p.m., but the store would like to be open until 11 p.m. 

The review of the cannabis retail store regulatory approach is set for two years after the first store opening in the City, which will be in August 2021, according to the staff report.  

Mayor John Vassilaki brought forward to receive the motion but wanted to hear what councillors thought of the proposal. 

Many councillors agreed in their statements that this wasn’t something they needed to review ahead of its scheduled time slot next summer. 

But the owner of Cannabis Cottage, Mariann Wolff was disappointed that the council would not review the request. Especially since the request was submitted again with the 300 signatories, adding that there has been motions she’s seen pass with less. 

“We have brought this up to them in the past already...we had not brought forward the proof of demand which is what theft asked for,” Wolff said. 

“This has been a well debated subject in the past and we’ve gone through now a couple years of having legalized cannabis in stores in the city and we haven’t seen the doom and gloom that we were worried about.” Councillor Julius Bloomfield said.

“But I think the market is sorting itself out on this product...I think that if we allow these stores the same leeway that we allow liquor stores then I don’t see a problem with that.” 

Bloomfield added that it should be made into an actionable item and look at it when staff has time. 

“The illegal cannabis market is in decline and the stores would be the agencies that would take the credit for that,” Councillor Frank Regehr said, adding that’s what council wanted to see happen with the legal shops. 

Marianne added that’s why she was pushing for later hours, continuing to be a legal store for customers to come to later in the night instead of seeking out other options.

“It's not even that we want to be open until 11 every day of the week it would be on key days or key nights,” Wolff said. “Helping reduce the illicit industry in town, because we’re just focusing on our community right now for this, and increasing our revenue when there’s clearly a demand.”

“We’re not just receiving this, the date has already been set for when we receive it,” Vassilaki said. “There’s no need to put staff to do that work before it’s time to do so.”

Council voted unanimously to not move up the date for discussion on the review of cannabis retailers and store hours. Operating hours for private stores will be revisited in the summer. 

“I like to say positive, I’m thankful to those who supported the petition and the licensed retailers in town,” Wolff said. 

Penticton conservation trying to find, save deer with arrow injury

Deer wandering with arrow

Conservation officers in Penticton are searching for a male deer spotted in the city Monday with an arrow sticking out of it, hoping they can tranquilize and treat the animal. 

Sgt. James Zucchelli said the buck, who has an arrow through a meaty portion of his back but is reportedly still grazing and active, was injured in such a way by a hunter in error.

"We have located the hunter, he was lawfully hunting in the areas adjacent to the City of Penticton. There's some question as to whether or not bylaws were infringed there, but as far as the Wildlife Act goes, it was just an unfortunate mistake that happened there," Zucchelli said. "He feels bad and wants to do what he can to follow up." 

Officers began searching Monday afternoon and evening in the area where the deer was spotted, in the Columbia neighbourhood on the east side of town, and are still on the lookout. 

"It doesn't appear to be a fatal injury on this deer," Zucchelli said. "It's walking around, it's feeding, so it's just a concern for us to have this arrow sticking out of this deer walking around residential areas." 

If anyone spots the deer, they should not approach it or attempt to help it themselves. Instead, call 1-877-952-7277. 

"Then we can follow up and attempt to remove the arrow," Zucchelli said. 

The hunter has cooperated fully, Zucchelli added, and discourages sharing photos of the deer in question so as not to stigmatize hunting activities. 

"Hunting does happen in and around the community. Mistakes do happen," Zucchelli said. 

"It's part of Okanagan life to have deer around in residential areas, and those deer migrate out of the residential areas and do go into the forest. And unfortunately, mistakes happen. But no hunter goes out with the intent of wounding or injuring an animal. There's a high degree of stress that's associated to that on behalf of the hunter and the animal as well, but it's a mistake that we learn from."


Penticton Indian Band elects new Chief, Greg Gabriel

New chief elected for PIB

A new chief has been elected for the SnPink’tn community, the Penticton Indian Band. 

Chief Greg Gabriel will be sworn in on Tuesday, having received the majority of the ballots cast. 107 of the 358 votes went to Chief Gabriel, while the incumbent Chad Eneas, received 80 votes, finishing fourth in the ballots. Eneas was elected in 2016. 

Gabriel has been serving for almost 35 years with the PIB in a management role and was a former band administrator. 

Within the PIB’s government structure, a Chief and Council are elected every four years under a custom election system. The Band Council is composed of a Chief and eight Council Members. 

Council positions nominations for the PIB will begin on Tuesday night and the polls are scheduled for Dec. 7, 2020. 

The chief election was managed by Victoria-based lawyer Marcus Hadley, who was appointed as a third-party electoral officer.

The unofficial election results are below:

  • Greg Gabrie with 107 votes
  • Tim Lezard with 82 votes
  • Joseph Pierre with 81 votes
  • Chad Eneas with 80 votes
  • Brian Jack with 8 votes

Penticton victim hit while riding motorcycle mourned by friends, family, colleagues

Crash victim a family man

The sudden loss of a Penticton man in a motor vehicle crash last week has left his family and friends reeling and grieving. 

Steve Dahnert, 60, was riding his motorcycle on Highway 33 near Goudie Road, heading home to Penticton from Kelowna, on Oct. 12 around noon. Police say a white SUV crossed the double centre line and crashed into Dahnert, who later died in hospital. 

Dahnert's son-in-law John Nocon said he was an incredible grandfather, father, friend and husband. 

"He was an excellent guy," Nocon said. "We all mourn for him so much."

He is greatly missed by the wider community, too. As a longtime trades instructor at Okanagan College, Dahner touched many lives, and the Penticton campus mourned his death by lowering the flags to half mast on Oct. 13.

“Steve and I were hired at nearly the same time. We worked together for many years, and I was lucky enough to call him a friend as well as a colleague. Steve was always enthusiastic about teaching students and apprentices, and anyone who walked into his shop or classroom could tell that Steve loved gadgets, tools, and teaching. The whole Electrical Department is grieving the loss of one of our own today, and we would like to express our condolences to Steve’s wife and his family. Steve was like a brother to us all, and he will be missed,” said Claudio DiBiase, instructor and chair of the Electrical Trades Department.   

Nocon said the outpouring has been touching, and he thanks everyone for their support. 

"There's a lot of people reaching out to us that we didn't know Steve knew, and of course the students that he taught at Okanagan College have been sending their condolences and been supportive,' Nocon said. 

Dahnert's death is still being investigated by police, though early statements from RCMP indicate the vehicle that crashed into him was in the wrong, driving into the oncoming lane. 

A GoFundMe had been previously set up for the family, but Nocon said he believes his mother-in-law will be taking it down as that is not what she thinks Dahnert would have wanted. 

Nocon said Dahnert was a capable, safe motorcyclist and urges drivers to be aware, to avoid similar senseless tragedies. In recent months, there have been several other motorcycle fatalities on Okanagan roads. 

"Be cautious about the road and follow the road rules," Nocon said.

Anyone who witnessed the crash is asked to contact RCMP at 250-491-5354 or email the lead investigator: [email protected]

Light industrial park planned for long-shuttered OK Falls mill site

Vision for former mill site

Once a mill, then a planned cannabis production complex, now hopefully a light industrial park — the latest owners of the old Weyerhaeuser mill in Okanagan Falls have a vision that the site will be part of restarting the economic engine of the small community. 

Garry Peters and his company Avery Group purchased the 114-acre property this summer for a reported $6.8 million that netted former owner Sunniva Inc., a cannabis production company, $3.2M in cash proceeds. 

Sunniva had purchased it in 2018, before which it had languished empty since Weyerhaeuser packed up its mill operations in 2007, taking hundreds of jobs with it. It had been pegged for a large-scale cannabis facility promising employment opportunities, but litigation dogged progress. This summer, Sunniva sold the land. 

Now, Avery Group has a new plan for the lot, currently zoned for heavy industrial. 

"Garry came first to be familiar with that site while we were scouting for an entirely different business we are involved in," explained Avery Group director of marketing and strategy Monique Janower. 

Peters has family in Penticton, Janower said, and his mother is from the region. That's a big part of his drive to provide opportunities in the area, a "near and dear" location for him.

"Since [the purchase] we have been moving as  quickly as possible because we see the opportunity with the current state of Okanagan Falls, it's really on the precipice of a revitalization," Janower said. "There's this interwoven relationship between a small community and a large potential multi-business employer like a light industrial park." 

Redevelopment applications will be submitted this week, attempting to change the zoning from heavy to light industrial. 

"It's just greater flexibility for the types of businesses that can set up there," Janower said.

Avery Group representatives have plans to be in Okanagan Falls in the coming weeks for meetings with local stakeholders like the winery association and community association.

Meet your candidate: Petra Veintimilla for Boundary-Similkameen

Meet your Liberal hopeful

Chelsea Powrie

Castanet South Okanagan is conducting a brief "Meet your Candidate" interview with major MLA candidates from the Boundary-Similkameen riding. This is the final instalment. 

Petra Veintimilla is looking to make the leap from municipal politics to provincial, running for the Liberal Party in an attempt to become Boundary-Similkameen's next MLA. 

"I am a mother of two young boys, I grew up in Oliver in the South Okanagan and I'm third generation working in a small family business," Veintimilla says by way of introduction. "I have six years of municipal elected experience under my belt [as Oliver councillor], as well as a couple of years at the Regional District [of Okanagan Similkameen]. I love my community, I've been described as a community builder, I just like to get involved wherever I see that help is needed."

Veintimilla says there isn't one singular major issue facing the widespread riding of Boundary-Similkameen, with its municipalities and rural communities.

"Each community is unique. It means a lot more groundwork figuring out what the issues are in each community but it's also a blessing, it's what makes us so diverse and such a great place to be that each little stop is unique from the one before," Veintimilla says. 

"Of course there are some general themes that affect residents in our area such as timely access to healthcare, housing, whether it be affordable housing or housing in general, and of course the opioid and addictions crisis that the whole province is grappling with." 

She says the jump from councillor to MLA is a big one, but a challenge she is ready for. 

"I think that I was blessed to get my start into this world with our local chamber of commerce which is regional, covering Oliver, Osoyoos and Okanagan Falls, and my brain is just wired for regional. I enjoy pulling people together, working together to solve issues instead of individualized pockets. So I'm totally ready for the challenge and I look forward to it."

Veintimilla has been spending a lot of time on the campaign trail knocking on doors to introduce herself, and if she could share one message with each voter, it's this: 

"I have had the good fortune, I believe, of being able to return to my home town once it was time to start building a life and a family of my own, and I view the decisions that we make with that lens. We want to be able to keep and attract people to rural B.C. If you want to move back here in your 20s or your 30s, that opportunity should be here." 

Veintimilla faces NDP Roly Russell, Conservative Darryl Seres and Wexit Arlyn Greig in the bid for Boundary-Similkameen votes.

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