An announcement on where a new 360-cell provincial correction centre will be built in the Okanagan is forthcoming, according to the minister responsible for the decision.
Commenting in the wake of Penticton council’s withdrawal of its bid to bring the facility to the municipality, Solicitor General Shirley Bond said ministry staff are continuing to evaluate proposed site submissions in four communities: Lumby, Summerland, the Penticton Indian Band and the Osoyoos Indian Band.
“I look forward to reviewing their final recommendations as soon as possible,” said Bond. “We hope to make a decision in the near future. At the same time, it’s important to recognize this is a historic, long-term investment for both the province and the final chosen community and we need to give all of our options careful consideration to ensure we get it right.”
According to Bond, the evaluation team will take a number of things into consideration, including: the site’s location and size; proximity to other institutions; availability of utilities; and community support.
It is a set a criteria that has one official with the Osoyoos Indian Band confident about the band’s submission: a roughly 20-acre lot of land located on the south side of the Senkulmen Business Park, north of Oliver, near Gallagher Lake.
Indeed, OIB Development Corporation CFO Brian Titus points out that the $9 million recently completed business park is the only proposed location for the correctional centre which is ready for construction.
“What we have been pushing is that our location is shovel-ready,” said Titus. “We have the infrastructure ready to go in: water, sewer, electrical, roads and all of that kind of stuff. So that gives us an advantage because it allows the province that much more time, instead of having to put in the infrastructure before starting construction on the (facility).”
Another strength of the OIB submission, said Titus, is the support for the bid within the community.
“We had an internal referendum a week ago where 73 per cent of the membership said Yes,” explained Titus. “We have support from the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen and we have support from the Town of Oliver and the Town of Osoyoos as well.
“There are always going to be people that oppose projects and there are always going to be people that approve them, but we go with what the majority of people think and support. We also know that there are pros and there are cons but the pros outweigh the negatives at this point.”
Titus said the OIB has a long and proven history of economic development.
“It is not very often that there is a $200 million project in the South Okanagan, or even in the Okanagan, of this magnitude,” he said. “The jobs that (the prison) will provide for the OIB community and the surrounding communities will be substantial.
“It will employ about 400 to 500 people during construction and it will have about another 500 to 600 indirect (jobs) from that also. And then after construction it will employ roughly 240 full-time people.”
Titus said the band expects the overall salary of the employees working at the facility to total around $17 million a year.
“It will be quite the injection into the local economy for sure,” he said. “The South Okanagan has been faced with some economic challenges over the last couple of years due to the economic slowdown. We have lost a couple of main employers in the area: General Coach (trailer plant) and Weyerhaeuser (sawmill) in OK Falls.
“In the long run it will be beneficial for the band. We will have land lease dollars; we will have development cost charges; we will have water and sewer fees; and we will have tax revenue. Plus, we will have another opportunity to get people back to work in the area.”