Work may soon begin on the long-awaited Okanagan Falls Industrial Park planned for the old Weyerhaeuser mill, which ceased operations in 2007.
“Environmental has been completed, it looks good and we are moving ahead with our rezone,” said Jim Morrison, one of the entrepreneurs with Zinfandel Holdings. In 2009, Zinfandel released a concept plan designating three main uses for the property, including commercial/industrial, affordable housing and a potential vineyard.
However, the project has been on hold since then, awaiting a Certificate of Compliance from the provincial government specifying the site had been remediated to meet environmental quality standards.
That certificate came this month, allowing Zinfandel to finalize the deal with Weyerhaeuser. Under a non-disclosure agreement with Weyerhaeuser, Morrison said he is limited in what he can say about their progress, but does say they are still pursuing the concept.
“It’s a beautiful property and our plan has some really good merit for Okanagan Falls,” said Morrison. “We have plans for modular homes on the site, in the residential portion, next to Shuttleworth Creek.”
Zinfandel’s original announcement about the project suggested that over the first 10 years of operation, it could generate as many as 500 job opportunities, almost double what Weyerhaeuser employed when it closed down in 2007.
“We have high hopes to get this project going forward,” said Tom Siddon, Area D director for the Regional District Okanagan Similkameen. “It was fundamentally important to economic development after the closure of the mill, about four years ago, to get those lands converted to some other, higher value use, hopefully to create permanent, year-round jobs.”
Siddon admits how the project unfolds is going to be up to the developer, but said there are a number of possible industries that could be situated there. The RDOS has an economic development officer, John Powell, working out of OK Falls.
“We are increasing the appeal of the community generally and trying to create a better self image,” said Siddon, explaining that the community and the old Weyerhaeuser site have great potential.
“It’s a very large piece of real estate, strategically located not that far from Penticton,” said Siddon, noting that it is also near the proposed corrections facility site in Oliver, as well as the crossroads of Highway 3a and 97.
“Bottom line is we are trying to create one or two industrial employers that can put 100 or 200 people to work in the community. It may be a few years before all that happens, but that adds to school enrolment, it adds business for the merchants in town, the grocery stores and the infrastructure,” said Siddon. “The future development of Okanagan Falls will hinge on how this industrial park will unfold.”