Shepherd hopes meeting will clear the air on prison debate

Opposition against Kelowna’s bid for a provincial prison is mounting, and to stem the tide of dissent Mayor Sharon Shepherd called a public meeting where all sides will have a chance to discuss the potential benefits and challenges.

Opposition against Kelowna’s bid for a provincial prison is mounting, and to stem the tide of dissent Mayor Sharon Shepherd called a public meeting where all sides will have a chance to discuss the potential benefits and challenges.

The date between Kelowna’s officials, members from the District of Lake Country and the Okanagan Indian Band will take place at the Ramada Inn Feb. 28.

It was initially scheduled to share information, but in the time since it was booked, the tone has changed.

Those with an anti-prison stance have become more entrenched in their point of view, and are actively spreading the word.

“How many times do we have to repeat ourselves? We do not want the facility,” said Fabian Alexis, band chief, in an interview with the Vernon Morningstar.

“We have safety concerns. We have a five-star resort and our land valuation won’t be as high with a facility.”

Lake Country officials insist that Kelowna can’t just proceed with the matter unilaterally.

“Kelowna needs to understand the point of view of the district and the band,” said Coun. Noreen Guenther.

“I need to see benefits for Lake Country and currently there are none. I only see problems and no resources to deal with those problems.”

Guenther says a similar view is held by many residents, and the general concern is Lake Country could become known as a prison town.

“Some think it’s too close to downtown and our infrastructure, like Beaver Lake Road doesn’t support this development. Lake Country roads can be impacted (by prison traffic) but Kelowna would get the government grant in lieu of property taxes,” she said.

While Shepherd was eager to sit down and discuss concerns Kelowna’s neighbours had over the potential prison, she’s become “frustrated” in recent weeks with the way Lake Country and the Okanagan Indian Band are addressing the issue.

“They agreed to a meeting at my request, to discuss the issue, and we’ve rented space at the Ramada to make it public, and accommodate all the members of the Okanagan Indian Band council,” she explained.

Today, however, Shepherd learned Chief Alexis was making the rounds wearing a T-shirt that read “what is it about ‘no’ you don’t understand,” and that’s making her question the decision.

“Why did they agree to a meeting?” she said.

“The intention isn’t to have a big argument about this proposal, I’m trying to gather facts about a correctional facility, what it looks like and what are the economics benefits.”

While the public can go to the meeting later this month, their input won’t be collected.

The province has owned the old Hiram Walker site for a number of years, and the City of Kelowna approved rezoning for a prison in 1996.

During that process, area residents and politicians had a chance to weigh in on whether or not they wanted a prison in the region. “Any time land has been zoned it goes through real scrutiny, and zoning changed would have considered the input taken from public hearings,” she said.

“I’ve written the Solicitor General…this land is already rezoned and if you have to make a decision on the least impact to tax dollars then this is the site you have to build on.”

Shepherd pointed out there are infrastructure needs for all neighbouring municipalities, and the province will have to chip in, which is bound to benefit everyone involved.

Presently, the B.C. Ministry of the Solicitor General is canvassing communities throughout the Okanagan to determine interest in hosting a facility.

—with files from

Richard Rolke of the

Vernon Morningstar