Posted on 04 April 2012 by Keith Lacey
Town of Osoyoos council has formally requested the provincial Ministry of Environment resume discussions with Parks Canada over the possibility of opening a national park in the South Okanagan.
The resolution passed Monday, which will also be brought forward for discussion and support by the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS) on Thursday, will also ask the province to release the 2010 feasibility study completed following several years of negotiations between the government, Parks Canada and numerous stakeholders, including First Nations communities and ranchers in the area.
Two months ago, Environment Minister Terry Lake announced the provincial government was withdrawing its support for the proposed national park in the South Okanagan following more than nine years of negotiations.
While providing few details, Lake said the government had consulted all affected stakeholders in making its decision. The province has so far refused to release the feasibility study, which was paid for by taxpayer dollars at a cost estimated in the area of $2 million.
Mayor Stu Wells said the intent is rather than make a collective political statement about town council’s position on the controversial national park debate, is to simply let the province know cutting off talks after more than nine years and not releasing the feasibility study, which cost a huge amount of taxpayer dollars to produce and publish, isn’t acceptable.
“I don’t think we’re pushing any buttons with this approach,” said Wells. “I don’t think you can stop something this important in the middle … while millions of dollars have been spent. Too much time and money have been spent to suddenly have one party say we’re out.”
The Okanagan Nations Alliance, made up of four First Nation bands in the South Okanagan, have officially engaged in a partnership to develop their own feasibility study about the proposed national park and are expecting results and a formal announcement later this fall, said Wells.
Coun. Michael Ryan agreed any resolution produced by council should not state its own official position on the national park, but instead urge that talks resume.
Ryan said he still believes the majority of residents in the Osoyoos area and across the South Okanagan are in favour of a national park.However, most of them were sitting quietly waiting for negotiations to produce a positive result. When talks broke off without notice, many of those in favour were in shock, he said.
As an elected official, Ryan said he believes the national park would “be an incredible economic driver and job creator” for the Osoyoos area and entire Okanagan Valley and the time has come for talks to resume.
There are outstanding issues that have to be resolved, but for the province to end negotiations and withdraw support without any explanation or release of the feasibility study remains perplexing, he said.
“Nothing happens if you don’t talk to each other,” he said.
Wells agreed, reiterating breaking off talks after nine years without an explanation has left a lot of people upset.
“That’s not fair, it’s not good policy,” he said. “Millions of dollars have been spent and taxpayers paid for that report and they deserve to be shown what’s in that report.”
The town’s motion asking for talks to resume will be forwarded to the RDOS board and will be discussed at their meeting set for Thursday evening in Vernon, said Wells.
Coun. C.J. Rhodes said he strongly agrees talks should resume between the province and Parks Canada and the feasibility study should be released to the public, but he also didn’t think it would hurt to introduce carefully worded language suggesting a public referendum should be held to settle this dispute once and for all.
“I think we all believe it’s eventually coming to that,’ said Rhodes.
Coun. Mike Plante agreed saying the members of the public he’s talked to about the national park issue have made it clear a public referendum is ultimately going to have to be held to resolve the matter.
The fact the provincial government withdrew its support for the national park without providing any reason for its decision and without releasing the feasibility study remain troublesome, said Plante.