A new bridge over the channel at Green Avenue is still some time away, but planning for both the bridge and the opportunities for economic development it will bring are moving ahead.
According to PIB Chief Jonathan Kruger, the band has a conditional agreement in place with the province and will be starting an environmental assessment in the near future and a legal survey for road access as well as commissioning an architectural design for a three-lane bridge.
“If the stars align, I am hoping that we can build a bridge next year, in 2014, but that’s wishful thinking right now,” said Kruger. But whether a bridge is completed in 2015 or later, a commercial development is already being planned for the Locatee land – properties owned privately by band members on the PIB side of the channel.
“We certainly support them in their business endeavours and local shopping so that we don’t have to go to Westbank or Kelowna for certain stores,” said Kruger.
Diane Pugh, representing the Property Development Group, said they are in a pre-leasing stage right now for the proposed Channel Crossing development.
“Developments take a long time to put together,” she said. “It’s not uncommon to be doing it all at the same time.”
Right now, she continued, they are still looking for an anchor store for the commercial development of about 250,000 square feet. Targeted uses include a hotel, a dollar store, arts and crafts, electronics, pet food, furniture, clothing and restaurants.
According to Pugh, there has been a fair amount of interest from people who want exposure to the highway traffic passing by on the Channel Parkway (Hwy. 97)
While bridge-related developments are in the planning stages, the PIB has some $9 million of projects already on the go, and more on the way, showing that the band’s long-range economic planning is starting to bear fruit.
“It’s been really busy for the last five years but a lot of that negotiating and work is becoming a reality,” said Kruger. “I am really proud of the position that the Penticton Indian Band is in and the moves we made to put us in a better position.”
Work has begun on the both the fish hatchery and the band’s new health building, but Kruger said there is another huge project that isn’t as visible, but will give the band control of one of the Okanagan’s most valued resources, water.
Once a $3 million dam project on Eneas Lake is finished, the Penticton Indian Band will be holding the biggest water license on a federal Indian reserve, in all of Canada, according to Kruger.
“The dam was old and it was going to breach, so we had to replace it. The province and Aboriginal Affairs asked us to take over the dam and the water license,” said Kruger. “We’ve been pursuing the water license there … it’s taken a lot of time and a lot of work and we’ve finally completed that.”
These projects mean employment opportunities not only for band members but area contractors and workers as well.
“It’s just good for everybody,” said Kruger. “Building a stronger region for everybody is a good thing.”
Along with the projects that have already started, the PIB is continuing preparatory work for other projects, like the Arrowleaf residential development, now known as Skaha Hills due to trademark issues.
“We’re proceeding quite well, we are working on a road and we are constructing the first phase, getting the surveys and the lots set up,” said Kruger.
And on top of the construction work, the PIB will again play host to the Aboriginal Business Match conference in 2014, which had a such a successful event in the South Okanagan this spring they decided to return.
Not only did the PIB development corporation get to showcase the area and their opportunities, Kruger said $40 million worth of business deals were generated between the 140 businesses and 130 First Nations representatives from communities around B.C.
“We shattered the record from the first year … they only created $2 million of deals, so we’ve created some huge success here,” said Kruger. “I am really proud to say we are helping First Nations communities move forward in business. And being self sustaining is important.”