It’s been a busy week for the Save Skaha Park group.
Besides gathering 900 people to create a human chain around the park area that is going to be lost in a lease to a private developer, they also filed a civil suit against both the City of Penticton and Trio Marine Group aimed at preventing the deal from going ahead.
Carolae Donoghue, secretary for Save Skaha Park group, said she was worried the publicity event on Sunday afternoon wouldn’t draw enough demonstrators to cover the perimeter of the area where Trio Marine is hoping to build water slides.
“It’s actually exceeded my expectations,” said Donoghue. “They were shoulder to shoulder. It was amazing.”
The entire perimeter around the leased area, according to the protest organizers, stretches 1,700 feet. More than 25 trees inside the area were tagged with yellow ribbons to mark their loss when the project goes ahead, and a photographer captured the event from a helicopter.
“… such a good turn out for such an important issue,” said former Penticton mayor (1988) Dorothy Tinning, who participated in the event.
Monday, Save Skaha Park announced they had followed through with their intention to seek a legal solution to block the development. According to a press release issued Monday, the group hired legal counsel and filed our civil claim on Sept. 25 in the B.C. Supreme Court, challenging the lawfulness of the city’s deal with Trio, which gives the company a 29-year lease on nearly six acres on the eastern side of the park, including the Skaha Marina.
Trio plans to continue to operate and upgrade the marina, along with building new amenities, including a restaurant and a commercial waterslide complex on the area of the park now occupied by the children’s splash pad.
The civil suit alleges the deal is invalid on several points, including that the city has no authority to permit the park to be used as anything else, citing three previous cases.
It also alleges a longterm lease is a form of disposition and should have triggered a referendum, citing a case against the City of Kelowna.
The group is concerned that council has continued on with the deal, despite opposition from almost 5,000 residents and 2,820 non-residents who have signed petitions requesting a referendum on the waterslide, along with two rallies that drew hundreds of people, both protesters and supporters of the development, to the steps of city hall.
“It is a relaxing, restorative place and needs no enhancement. A commercial waterpark is totally inconsistent with its purpose and will destroy its serene and healing ambience so valued by Penticton residents,” reads the press release. The group is also concerned that the lease deal with Trio Marine could set a precedent for other parks, that commercializing the park without community consent would make it easier for this and future councils to do the same in other parks.
“Save Skaha Park thought long and hard before making this decision. We wish no ill to our mayor and councillors or to Trio, but we cannot let this bad decision go unchallenged,” writes organizer Lisa Martin in the release. “We feel there is just too much at stake for the future of our City. “We simply can’t stand by and let this happen without a fight. We believe that the purpose of our parks is people, not profit.”
Neither Mayor Andrew Jakubeit or representatives of Save Skaha Park were willing to say anything else regarding the civil suit.
“We just got this today, so it would be premature to comment. Being a legal matter, we will be very limited on what we release,” said Jakubeit.
Martin said she wasn’t surprised the city wasn’t willing to comment.
“It’s before the courts now. I absolutely understand their position,” said Martin. “We are just going to have to wait and see how it all turns out.”
— With files from Dan Walton/Western News