RDOS board calls for talks on national park to resume

Regional directors want province to release 2010 feasibility study by Parks Canada

Municipal politicians who voted last week in favour of urging continued provincial-federal consultation on a proposed national park are “misinformed,” says Boundary Similkameen MLA John Slater.

The park opponent said in an interview Friday he will speak with directors of the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen to “make sure they have all the facts before they start pushing.”

“Personally, I think they were misinformed,” Slater said.

The proposed South Okanagan Similkameen national park was pitched in 2003 and has been in the study phase ever since. In December, however, B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake announced the province had withdrawn from the process due to an apparent lack of local support.

Slater said the park idea isn’t dead yet as local First Nations are still completing their own studies, and those reports, along with an updated feasibility study from Parks Canada, must all be complete before anyone can make an informed, final decision.

“I think once that’s done, then Parks Canada and the Ministry of Environment will look at it again and say, ‘Now what do we do?’” Slater said.

The motion approved by the RDOS board at its meeting Thursday makes three requests: that the province resume talks with the federal government on the park; that the RDOS be kept apprised of those talks; and that the province release to the public a Parks Canada feasibility study from 2010.

Osoyoos Mayor Stu Wells was careful to note that his “rather innocuous” motion doesn’t mean the RDOS has taken a position on the park, but simply asks the province to “re-engage the dialogue.”

Wells’ motion also sparked a nearly hour-long dialogue around the RDOS board table, with some directors strongly for or against. Another advocated for neutrality.

In front of a packed public gallery of about 30 people, Kaleden director Tom Siddon said it was a “terrible tragedy” that the province decided to “turn down the opportunity to have a national park. It won’t come again.”

He said opponents have “good and valid reasons,” but the greater public benefits of the park “vastly outweigh the interests of the few who want to keep it a private domain.”

Cawston director George Bush said he is still against the park because it will hurt agriculture and other commercial interests.

“The bottom line at the end is, (in) 100 years, 200 years, this will be a national park. There will be no ranching. There will be no mining. There will be no logging. There will be no recreation.”

Meanwhile, rural Oliver director Allan Patton worried that voting to ask the province to resume talks could be construed as support for the park.

“I don’t want to vote against that, and I don’t want to vote in favour of it,” he said.

Patton and Rural Keremeos director Angelique Wood left the room to avoid voting on that part of the motion.

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, which is spearheading an effort to drum up local support for the park, applauded the RDOS motion.

“I believe that the local people have now spoken,” terrestrial conservation director Chloe O’Loughlin said Tuesday.

Prior to the vote, she offered directors an information package containing expressions of support for continued consultation on the park from local governments, farmers, tourism groups, businesses and scientists, along with three opinion polls and a petition.