Floating down the Okanagan River Channel has been a right of passage for locals and a must-do for tourists for years, but it could become a thing of the past.
Mike Campol, director of partnerships and projects for the K’ul Group which oversees Coyote Cruises, is “frustrated” with the City of Penticton and the public’s attitude during the current attempt to reach an agreement for a 20-year lease (from the current five years) of the Riverside Park property.
Coyote Cruises uses a portion of the park as the starting point for its operations of renting tubes and providing transportation to and from the start and exit points along the channel.
What Campol maintains is that the business of floating the channel is a two-way street when it comes to land use.
The municipality owns the dedicated parkland at the start, but the midway and exit locations are on Penticton Indian Band (PIB) land.
“There is no channel float if you cannot get off the channel,” said Campol. “It’s the only way this channel float works, you have that mid-point and exit point so you don’t float out into the lake.
“Through all the feedback from the community, feedback from committee meetings, there’s almost this feeling of entitlement (to be) on the band’s parkland, with or without going through a band-owned business, it is disrespectful and I’d hate to see this experience stop.”
Two areas of concern to K’ul are their requirement to go through the revised city parks approval procedure (park land protection and use policy process) and the potentially high cost of the new lease or license to use permit.
“I’m understanding why this process is in place through some missteps from the city in the past, but that was based on taking greenspace away and developing on it. What we’re doing now is taking an existing city entity and asking for some long-term certainty,” said Campol.
“It needs to stop being compared to the Skaha Park (waterpark proposal) situation because that’s completely apples to oranges.
“We’ve met with the protect the parks committee, we’ve met now twice with the parks (and recreation advisory) committee, city council twice, two public engagements and there’s still the possibility of going through a referendum.”
He added recently K’ul learned from the city, if granted, the lease rate would be based on the assessed land value.
Coyote Cruises uses .16 hectare of the park property that has a building. Public access will remain unrestricted under any new agreement.
“When you’re appraising for a business that essentially operates two months a year chances are that it’s going to come back as challenging to be able to pay that fee,” said Campol.
“A ton of time and money has already been spent on this to make this experience better for everybody, this is a massive opportunity for the City of Penticton and the PIB to do something significant together.
“That shouldn’t require just the PIB and Coyote Cruises paying exorbitant amounts of money to the city to have an entry point for anybody that’s coming down that channel while utilizing PIB lands with no cost to anybody, it is a bit offensive to me.”
Campol estimated that 70 per cent of people using the channel do not go through Coyote Cruises.
“They’re still coming onto Penticton Indian Band land as part of that experience and there’s no charge for that, I’m not suggesting that we charge those people to come off on PIB land, what I’m suggesting is some sort of balance in terms of what the city’s putting towards this,” he said.
“It’s a freebee for anybody to come on PIB land. What about our parkland? I get that there’s concern from residents about how the parkland is used but I think based on public engagement and feedback nobody wants to see this channel experience go away.”
K’ul has partnered with two other city business people on the project and has already spent considerable money on renovations to the existing structure and other improvements including safety and staff training.
He said the current five-year license to use expires this year and costs Coyote about $3,000 annually in addition to property taxes of about the same amount.
Campol estimates the new figure will likely be in the range of $10,000 to $15,000.
“I don’t want to say that (ending tubing in the channel) but it has to be viable,” said Campol. “My job is projects and partnerships I have put together the right partnerships. I have to make sure the project is viable.
“I’d like to think that there’s a way we could really work together and do this together.”
The nine-step process for Coyote Cruises’ request for the long-term lease of city parkland is about two-thirds of the way along.
Anthony Haddad, director of development services for the municipality, said the matter is currently in the hands of the parks and recreation advisory committee, which is reviewing feedback from the community engagement, including two open houses last month.
“The results of the engagement process were really positive, some concerns about the terminal lease which we’re now in the process of working with Coyote Cruises on what a draft agreement would look like,” said Haddad.
He added because Riverside is one of 11 dedicated city parks, the proposal falls under the new parks dedication bylaw approved by council in 2018 and must go through the new process.
That also means should the request make it all the way to the end, it would then be up to the advisory committee and council to move it forward for the necessary electoral approval.
That could either be by referendum or alternative approval process.
Haddad noted in terms of the annual cost associated with the lease or license, that is still to be determined.
“As part of any lease agreement of city land, we do an assessment of the value of that land and that discussion will make its way into the drafting of an agreement over the next couple months,” he said.
“As as we put that agreement together we will be working closely with the committee, Coyote Cruises on what that agreement looks like including what value that may be applied to the land as well.”
He added whether or not that amount is negotiable is still undetermined.
He is hoping a draft agreement can be ready by late summer and early fall.