Two factions of business people publicly speaking either for or against the potential for a jail being constructed in the region have emerged.
One group of Summerland business owners have stirred attention from photos they have doctored to change the Welcome to Summerland sign to say ‘Welcome to Prisonland’ and heritage attraction highway signs edited to include notices to not pick up hitchhikers because of prison facilities. While it might crack a smile for some, the group against having a jail in Summerland, said it is no joke.
“It wasn’t to be funny or clever. That is how Summerland will be perceived, we believe,” said spokesperson Stephanie Seaton. “It is not a joke. It is about how subconsciously a tourist coming to town, if we are known as a prison town, they will perceive it that way. Yes, the photos are a bit of an attention getter but that wasn’t the purpose. This is how we will be perceived — a prison town.”
Banding together to provide information to the public, the group has created a blog at www.summerlandbc.wordpress.com. Seaton said she has done extensive research on the rural jail towns with information on the blog citing specific references on a number of misconceptions she believes have been lobbied around the community on a variety of jail-related topics. She estimates the blog has an average of 85 to 90 hits per day since it was put up just over a week ago.
“We feel that this (jail) is a huge game-changer for our small town. With all the misinformation we wanted to get some real information out there,” said Ron Watkins, another spokesperson for the movement against a jail being built in Summerland.
If Summerland was chosen by the government, Watkins said it would make the community the smallest of the prison towns in B.C.
“As far as I can tell in talking to council, I think if it came to a vote of yes or no right now, I think it would be deleted right now,” said Watkins.
Knowing that April 1 is the deadline for communities to show their interest to the province by submitting properties, it has left the group with a limited timeline to get their opinion out on constructing the jail slated to be open by 2015.
“April 1 is the Fool’s Day, we are trying to get council to try and not send a property in,” said Watkins. “For us right now it is getting information out there. We are being accused of telling people what it isn’t when we are actually telling people the facts.”
They said this could be the most important decision Summerland will make regarding the image and direction of the town.
A separate group of Summerland investors and business owners have taken a different view on the matter.
“Today we introduce the phrase, Summerland business wants in,” said Arlene Fenrich who owns Edgy Petals, speaking on behalf of the business group in favour of the jail. “This effort is to ensure that when the location of the prison in the South Okanagan is decided, Summerland business wants in on the economic opportunities it will certainly present.”
Those comments have not changed since the five Summerland locations and three Penticton potential jail locations were unveiled at community forums last week.
“We haven’t changed our position which is we are for exploring the potential economic benefits of having a prison located somewhere in the South Okanagan. That has been our stand the whole time and we think it is worth exploring. The economy around here stinks and I think anything that has a potential economic benefit right now definitely should be looked at and looked at hard.”