Late Friday, a $2 environmental levy imposed on people floating down the channel was lifted, less than a week after it was imposed.
Chief Jonathan Kruger of the Penticton Indian Band said they came together with the City of Penticton and the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen at the 24th hour, with an agreement to work on a co-operative structure to deal with keeping the Okanagan River channel and the walking path beside it clean and well-maintained.
When the band took over Coyote Cruises, Kruger said, they had complaints from the public that they needed to keep up the river channel.
“We wanted to do that, we felt it was a good responsibility. But the cost and the capacity of dealing with cleaning up the river channel was more than we anticipated,” said Kruger, who estimates that Coyote Cruises, a Penticton Indian Band-owned business, captures less than five per cent of the general population using the channel.
“It’s been a challenge and it’s been a struggle for us to keep it moderately clean,” said Kruger, who estimates they collect between six and 10 large garbage bins full of trash and abandoned floatation devices every year, and another two bins worth of dog feces.
That’s where the environmental levy for all channel users came in. The city and the regional district helped for a while, according to Kruger, but then declared they didn’t have money in their budgets.
“We have approached the city and the regional district in the past and they said they couldn’t put it in their budget,” said Kruger. “Our leadership told Coyote Cruises to start putting in an environmental levy to help fix the situation.”
Kruger was surprised at the negative feedback the levy generated.
“We wanted to be as fair as possible. A lot of the people that go down there through the year weren’t paying for Coyote Cruises,” said Kruger. “I understand it is something they have gotten for free for a long time, but they leave a big mess. Someone has to take care of it, and it does cost money.”
All the PIB wants, according to Kruger, is a great experience for the people that use the area, whether they are in the channel, or walking or running on the path beside it. It doesn’t matter whose jurisdiction the channel falls under, he said.
“It’s all of our land, we have to come together and we have to do something,” said Kruger, who said he didn’t want to get into a land title discussion over the issue. “This is about enjoying the land and taking care of it together.”
To that end, the city of Penticton and PIB have signed a letter of intent agreeing to enter into discussions with the aim to resolve outstanding maintenance concerns relating to the channel cleanup.
“The channel obviously is of mutual interest, it’s a huge tourist draw for the City of Penticton, one of our iconic scenes,” said acting mayor Garry Litke. “Whenever you see a brochure about Penticton, there is someone floating down the channel.”