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Proposal process starts for Okanagan prison

Chief Clarence Louie and B.C. Attorney General Shirley Bond sign copies of agreement detailing a 60-year land lease and services agreement  between the Osoyoos Indian Band and the provinical government for the establishment of a new prison. - Steve Kidd/Western News
Chief Clarence Louie and B.C. Attorney General Shirley Bond sign copies of agreement detailing a 60-year land lease and services agreement between the Osoyoos Indian Band and the provinical government for the establishment of a new prison.
— image credit: Steve Kidd/Western News

Though no shovels were in evidence, a meeting at the Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Centre was still something of a groundbreaking.

Shirley Bond, B.C.’s attorney general and minister of justice, was on hand to announce that the province had shortlisted three contractors for the planned Okanagan Correctional Centre as well as to sign a leasing and utility agreement with the Osoyoos Indian Band for the prison site. It was, she pointed out, a first for public-private partnerships.

“This is the first time ever in the history of Canada, that a provincial corrections facility will be built on an Indian reserve property,” said Chief Clarence Louie of the OIB. “We are breaking ground in a lot of ways here.”

The agreement signed March 20 between the province and the OIB lay out the details of the $10 million land lease for the prison and the utility services for a 60-year period, plus an option for an additional 20 years. Construction of the project is expected to create 500 direct and 500 indirect jobs, plus another 240 ongoing positions once the prison is completed and operational.

“The estimated payroll will be more than $18 million a year,” said Bond, noting that there will be a significant number of spin-off jobs created as well, for services like janitorial, maintenance and health. “I actually live in a community where there has been a corrections facility as long as I can remember. They are fantastic family supporting jobs. This will be a maximum security institution, but it will also be state of the art security. People are excited and pleased by this project coming to the valley.”

Band members will be benefitting from the lease agreement before the construction begins. According to Louie, the OIB will be distributing a portion of the lease, in the amount of $5,000, to each of the band’s approximately 600 members, in what he says is their regular distribution process. But the distribution, he said, isn’t buying support for the lease.

“In politics, there is never a time when everybody is happy. Some people would have said the lease should have been $100 million. Some people would have said the whole amount should have been paid out. It’s never 100 per cent on any issue,” said Louie. The remainder of the income from the prison-site lease, he said, will be reinvested in the band.

“It is about the jobs, jobs are so important to the South Okanagan. This project is an important project, not just for the OIB, but for the South Okangan, for the entire region,” said Louie.

Those promised jobs are still some time away, however. In the year since the prison site near Oliver was chosen, the province has whittled the number of applicants from seven down to three teams  — BC Community Partners, Brookfield-Ellis Don-Fengate Justice Partners, and Plenary Justice — that will be asked to take part in the request for proposal process to design, build, partially finance and maintain the OCC project.

“That will take about 10 months, so another year from now, we hope to be standing right here as we announce the proponent that will actually build this corrections centre,” said Bond. Louie, who has led the OIB to a position as one of the economically progressive and development-oriented bands in Canada, isn’t surprised to find the process a slow one.

“I always have to correct even our own people, this is not our prison. But we do have some influence, we can get more actively involved and now that it is down to three, we will. But in a $200 million build out, of course it is a long process,” said Louie. “It is rare that something gets built in the South Okanagan that is over $100 million and this is $200 million. I was aware it would be many months. You have to go through layers.”

The OIB was not involved in the initial selection process, but Louie said that now that the shortlist has been announced, they will have some involvement.

“Now we will actively get involved and set up some meetings. Regardless who is left standing at the end of this process, we want a working relationship with them,” said Louie.

Bond also announced that the finished maximum security facility will contain 18 cells for women, along with 360 for men. Added to the cells that are coming online at Surrey, the total capacity in the corrections system will increase to 2,400 cells helping ease the congestion in B.C.’s prison system.

Updated March 21, 2013, 12:20 p.m.

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