Agreement strengthens ties between city and band

With a swoop of a pen, a giant step has been taken

  • Oct. 6, 2011 6:00 p.m.

With a swoop of a pen, a giant step has been taken.

That’s how Penticton Indian Band Chief Jonathan Kruger feels about Penticton council approving two long-awaited service agreements between the two entities Monday.

“It’s a big step of moving forward together. It’s pretty huge,” Kruger said Wednesday. “It took a long time. I’m sure we both put in a lot of time and hours into it. I think it’s going to be a document that we can share with other municipalities and other First Nations that are striving to come together and work in partnership.

“It’s something the Penticton Indian Band and the City of Penticton should be really proud of.”

The two documents were presented at this Monday’s council meeting, with more than 60 pages covering both Indian Reserve No. 2 and Warren Avenue Oxbow Lands.

The agreements detail an array of services to be shared by the two entities: sanitary sewer, treated water and fire inspection and suppression. The band must seek agreements with outside organizations for services such as police protection, garbage collection, maintenance of land infrastructure, ambulance service, gas, telephone, cable and development. According to the agreement, the band can request additional services such as building inspection and electricity.

There is an emphasis on safety in the agreement as well. Under the section about building plans and records, the band agrees to provide the Penticton fire chief with building plans and permits pertaining to improvements to buildings on site, including inspection reports and orders issued to building occupants. In addition to suppression services, the fire chief is able to conduct compliance inspections on band lands to ensure protection is in place.

The agreement lays out the band’s responsibilities as well. It is in charge of creating or maintaining systems like hydrants and water distribution lines serving those amenities, which must be done in accordance to applicable city bylaws.

While it may seem like simple, everyday services outlined in the agreements, Kruger said it’s the first time the band has signed a comprehensive agreement with the city on these issues, having only had protocols on different aspects of service overlap in the past.

“It’s taken a long time to get us here today,” he said.

Not only is it a first, he said, the agreements poise the two organizations to work together in stimulating the economy.

“I predict that times could be even tougher along the line here. This is an opportunity for not only the Penticton Indian Band, but everybody in the South Okanagan,” he said.

“I believe the City of Penticton is the hub of the South Okanagan. This leadership that we’ve applied is going to make us the leaders of the hub.”

He cites plans for the bridge at Green Avenue as just one project that could create jobs and foster improved transportation to allow for locatee development on the oxbow lands. A mixed-use project is planned for the area, featuring residential buildings in addition to larger commercial spaces that could offer employment and retail opportunity for band members and city residents.

“That’s going to promote thousands of jobs. It’s going to promote jobs so we can build the things that this hub needs so we don’t have to travel to Westbank and Kelowna,” he said. “We found out in studies that there are 2,500 cars that are driving north every day, going to Costco, going to this and that. Maybe we should be getting those kinds of things, saving people gas money and time, and the environment. That’s promoting jobs.”

A separate agreement covers IR#2, where the Penticton Indian Band has pitched a correctional facility to the Ministry of Solicitor General. Kruger said nothing additional had to be added to the agreement should an institutional facility be located on site. Although band leaders met with ministry officials three weeks ago on the proposal, Kruger said they are still awaiting word with no timeline on when the decision will be made on the correctional facility’s location.

That was the only issue that created any opposition to the agreements around the council table Monday. Coun. Garry Litke voted against the IR#2 agreement, noting at the end of the meeting that the city’s residents had voted against a correctional facility. Had the agreement come to the council table without the spectre of a remand centre in the background, Litke  said he would be supporting the agreement.

But institutional uses have always been planned for the area, Mayor Dan Ashton said, as Interior Health often cites the parcel as a potential site for washing facilities for the entire operation — which can lead to more jobs and economic boosts to city residents as well.

“The locatee land that is right in the middle of our industrial area provides an opportunity for a wide spectrum, from low-cost housing to manufacturing and institutional,” he said. “The institutional direction has been there for an awful long time, far exceeding this council.

“An institutional organization can mean government organizations, health organizations, and they’re all jobs. It’s right in the middle of our industrial area, which doesn’t have the biggest land holding for industrial space. This is additional space for more industry to come to Penticton and to create more jobs. ”

Penticton city operations director Mitch Moroziuk, who worked on agreement negotiations for several years, said the agreement serves both parties well as it provides the band choice in service provision and outlines payment for services.

The two parties also managed to resolve a long-standing issue about infrastructure running across IR#2 that is not protected by easements, he said, adding security will now be in place.

Ultimately, Ashton said, the agreement was “a long time in coming, but a step in the right direction.”