Ambitions for a prison within Kelowna’s boundaries were laid to rest Tuesday afternoon, when B.C.’s Solicitor General publicly put the kibosh on a plan 15 years in the making.
“It’s critical that local governments and citizens be part of selecting a site for this new secure custody centre,” said a representative for Rich Coleman, following the minister’s initial statement that there would never be a prison on the lands zoned for such use.
“That’s why we’ve asked local governments to forward recommendations so that we can ensure we find the best site—one that has community support and meets all of the project criteria.
“The Jim Bailey Road property, also known as the Potterton Road property, was identified back in 1996 and it does not meet our current criteria.”
It’s a stance that surprised Mayor Sharon Shepherd, as it’s completely contrary to what she’s been told by the three previous Solicitor Generals.
“We were already shocked when the province, last year, asked communities to come to the table and come up with a potential site,” she said.
“That letter went out and it didn’t even identify that the site in Kelowna was already zoned.”
A chunk of the old Hiram Walker site was purchased by the province years earlier and after a lengthy public process, the city rezoned it in 1996, so it could be used as a prison.
It was believed the project would move forward shortly after that, but first priority was put on a prison built in Port Coquitlam. Then in 2008, when it seemed as though all systems were go, it was scuttled again by the protest of the Okanagan Indian Band.
Despite all that, Shepherd was of the belief it would come to be, so she wrote the minister’s office when she heard the call for proposals, trying to suss out why the call was even made.
To that she got a response from Coleman’s office saying, “You should be aware that this site was considered to be unsuitable three years ago.”
Shepherd wrote him again on Feb. 8 and from the ensuing conversation, she came to believe that further discussion with prison opponents could keep Kelowna in the running for a facility that she said would be a “win-win” situation for all involved
So she scheduled a Feb. 28 meeting between the Okanagan Indian Band and members of the District of Lake Country.
“Now with the ‘no way, no how’ announcement, I’ll have to go back to council to see if we should proceed,” she said.
“We aren’t going to identify another site, as was mentioned, and this has all been a big loss to the Valley.”
Taxpayers money was spent in the lead up to rezoning the site, but more than anything else, she said, the new prison is needed and this blip could throw the timeline way off. Any city in the running now will have to go through the same process Kelowna did in 1996, and that’s likely to be time consuming.
“There needs to be correctional facility, and if a community can come to grips with it, then we’ll absolutely support them.
“The Lumby mayor asked me last fall, and I said I don’t know why you are going after a site, because there is one in Kelowna already,” she said, adding she’s learned the city has become quite divided over the issue.