Communities in the South Okanagan are hoping a piece of Crown land will be the solution to curb issues with seasonal farm workers.
The Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen voted unanimously on Thursday to make an application to the province for a licence of occupation over a portion of Crown land for a period of 10 years. The potential site for the campground is an area south of the Osoyoos Desert Centre between a gravel pit and the airport.
“This is very preliminary,” said area A director Mark Pendergraft. “My hope is to have something ready for the summer, although it will be very rough. There will be porta-potties, sites roughed in, but might not be showers on the site by that time.”
Pendergraft said he has been in touch with B.C. Fruit Growers Association president Joe Sardinha, who will be rallying support from the farmers to contribute funds to the campground.
The push for a campground stemmed from complaints last summer. Osoyoos Mayor Stu Wells said farm labourers coming to the Okanagan for summer work have set up camp illegally on Crown land. Eviction notices were put on all their tents to evacuate the land or face a $1,000 fine. It forced the workers to find a new place to stay, which just happened to be Osoyoos parks and beaches. That happened right before Osoyoos’ July 1 celebrations, causing havoc with the bylaw officers having to hand out tickets for numerous infractions.
This prompted a July 15 meeting with representatives from Osoyoos, the Ministry of Forests and Range, Ministry of Environment, the B.C. Fruit Growers Association, RCMP, bylaw enforcement and local levels of government to discuss the issue. The focus was on accommodation, transportation and communication issues with the workers.
To meet the operational needs of a seasonal farm worker camp, the potential site would require ongoing funding, grant-in-aid or revenue from camp user fees, fencing, porta-potties, water, fire pits and security. Following the Loose Bay Campground model in Oliver, the RDOS will work with a local community group or society to manage or hire a contract campground operator to manage it.
Pendergraft envisions the potential site would accommodate 50 to 60 people. He said it is located in an area where workers could easily walk to, and a trail path is already cut that labourers could use, rather than walk on the road. Pendergraft said there are many aspects of the campground that are still up for debate including the use of fire pits. He said instead they could have a barbecue area to reduce the risk of fire.
This was not the only site discussed that had potential for a campground. Pendergraft said there were three sites originally, with one of them being a potentially better area for a seasonal labourers campground but they would have had to wait several years for that land to become available.
Diane Vaykovich, special projects co-ordinator, told the RDOS in a staff report that if the licence of occupation does not proceed, the hardship faced by seasonal farm workers in accessing temporary accommodation will continue.
“The lack of suitable accommodation will continue to impact residents, local and provincial governments as workers encroach public and Crown lands with no provision for washrooms, sleeping and warmth,” wrote Vaykovich.