The issue of transient fruit pickers and campers loitering in public parks is a complicated one according to Oliver Mayor Pat Hampson.
“We are concerned about the impact on everybody,” said Hampson, explaining the campers get booted out of one community and move onto the next one.
“It’s a real issue for me because we have complaints from our residents that there are dogs running free in the park and we have limited bylaw enforcement in the community. We have parents and children who go to the park and decide to leave because there is a group there drinking and cay-eyeing and generally making themselves a nuisance. Our residents are paying taxes for that park and these young people aren’t, but we can’t kick them out because they have constitutional rights to be where they are.”
Strawberry Creek in Osoyoos was one known spot where illegal campers and the transient fruit pickers were staying, but the town closed off access to the area earlier this year.
“These young people move on and the next logical stop for them would be Oliver,” said Hampson. “So what the provincial government is doing, is they are forcing us to toss this around like a ball.”
Last year eviction notices were put on the tents of illegal campers who set up on Crown land. The year before there was a fire at an illegal campground that cost about $80,000 to extinguish.
Last summer it was decided that an application would be put forward to the provincial government to designate a campground in rural Osoyoos. It was designed to be similar to the campground in Oliver known as Loose Bay where campers and fruit pickers often make their home for the summer months. RDOS Area A director Mark Pendergraft agreed to take the lead on the plan.
“We have received tentative approval just last week. We are waiting for it to show up and it may have been delayed in the postal strike, but we did receive a call it had been tentatively approved,” said Pendergraft. “At this late in the game though I am not sure we could get the camp open for this season, but we would probably do some construction to make sure it is ready for the following year.”
Osoyoos Mayor Stu Wells said there have not been as many complaints of the illegal campers in his area this year. Closing Strawberry Creek to vehicles he said has helped in providing a bit more control. While it is good for Osoyoos, it falls into Hampson’s passing the ball to another community theory.
“Because the province has really delayed things in terms of getting this licence of occupation for the campground it means now that any spillover from Osoyoos could easily land in Oliver,” said Hampson. “I think the one thing is we need to get a message out to these young people that there is not as many jobs out here as people think. We do have Mexican workers coming in and I believe there was some from the Caribbean a couple of years ago. There needs to be a message delivered, but where and how do you deliver it?”