By Joe Fries
Special to OsoyoosToday
It will take more than a decade to get a South Okanagan-Similkameen national park into full operation, local politicians heard Thursday.
“I really want to explain that this is a long and detailed process,” Parks Canada project manager Sarah Boyle told the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.
Ms. Boyle, who started full time in August, said she’s currently working with the three participating governments — federal, provincial and Okanagan Nation Alliance — to propose boundaries for the park that will be revealed during a 90-day public consultation period beginning in November.
The next target after that is to sign a three-way memorandum of understanding in August 2019.
Following that agreement will come up to two years of negotiation required for the parties to formally recognize the park in legislation.
“That then starts a 12-year period of park establishment, and that’s really the ramping-up phase,” explained Ms. Boyle.
“You have staff that are hired, you have your gateways, you start getting your details of the visitor offer — the areas that you want to target, the areas you don’t want to target — and then after that 12-year period you get into parks operation.”
In response to questions from directors, Ms. Boyle shot down a series of common concerns about the project.
- On the risk of a wildfire spreading from the park to nearby communities, she said Parks Canada works with neighbours to reduce the risk of interface fires, is “a leader in prescribed fires,” and in some places maintains its own fire crews and equipment.
- She flatly denied Parks Canada would expropriate private property, instead explaining the agency only has the power to obtain land on a willing buyer-willing seller basis.
- Existing grazing leases within parks boundaries will be grandfathered, Ms. Boyle said.
- On the subject of Penticton-based HNZ Helicopters’ continued use of the park area for training, she explained the company is currently renewing its permission from the B.C. government and Parks Canada is letting the process play out.
- Finally, asked if the park would ever be expanded, Ms. Boyle couldn’t rule it out, but said doing so would be “very difficult.”
Area B (Cawston) Director George Bush said he’s concerned Parks Canada will effectively reduce the supply of available agricultural land and become “the biggest realtor-developer” in the region.
“The other concern is the local government is kind of being left out in the consultation,” Mr. Bush continued. “That’s where I would like to be included. It’s part of my area.”
Ms. Boyle pledged local governments will be included during the public consultation and that she will appear before the RDOS board again in December.
Other directors expressed support for the park, which has proceeded in fits and starts for at least 15 years.
“It’s a no-brainer. We should do it,” said Area D (Okanagan Falls/Kaleden) Director Tom Siddon.
“This discussion has gone on and on, and it’s time to get off the pot — and I’m pleased that the current leadership in Ottawa and in Victoria is ready to do that.”
Joe Fries is an editor and reporter with the Penticton Herald. OsoyoosToday and the Herald share an informal editorial use agreement.