South Okanagan stories that made an impact in 2016

Stories and photos from around the South Okanagan that made the front page headlines in 2016.

A lot happened in Penticton in 2016, but a story that started in 2015 continued to be one of the most talked about through the year.

The controversy over leasing out a portion of the park for a private developer to build waterslides began in July 2015, and by the start of 2016, settled into a standoff, with the Save Skaha Park Society waiting for the City of Penticton’s reaction to the civil suit they filed in B.C. Supreme Court.

Opposition to park development continues

Letters to the editor and rallies in opposition continued throughout the year, with a second civil suit being filed against the city and developer Trio Marine Group in July.

In October, the city began talks with Trio behind the scenes eventually coming up with a settlement agreement, costing taxpayers some $40,000 to get out of the original agreement — along with an enhanced agreement for Trio to expand and operate Skaha Marina.

Read more: Waterslides of the table for Skaha Park

Though the Save Skaha Park Society dropped their civil suit after a still-reduced set of agreements, limiting the deal to little more than the marina was endorsed by the city on Dec. 1, the controversy still lingers after Nelson Meikle vowed to continue his civil suit.

Read more: Lack of trust keeps lawsuit against city afloat

Building boom

Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said that in retrospect, the city might have handled things differently, especially public consultation. However, he said the controversy over the park overshadowed good news, like how well the city did financially in 2016, With work on the PRH expansion started and several other projects getting underway, 2016 was a record year for Penticton.

Read more: Skaha Hills development sells $12 in one day

“The real estate guys are saying the last two years have been the busiest times, so I am confident our population is growing,” said Jakubeit, in a recent interview. “This year, we hit $1 billion in real estate sales. As of Monday, we were at $190 million in construction value (of building permits), versus $60 million last year.”

A growing problem

Another burning issue for the city was how to deal with an increasing number of medical marijuana dispensaries. After the RCMP made no moves to close down the dispensaries, in July city staff began the process of cancelling business licenses for four dispensaries and ordering them to stop illegal sales of cannabis products.

Read more: Penticton gives nod to marijuana dispensaries

Those closures were hotly contested by many, including some members of city council. The city eventually came up with the concept of regulating the business operations under temporary use permits — though not the product being sold — and charging a $5,000 license fee to cover increased costs.

In early December, council voted to issue permits to just two of seven groups applying.

Kids aren’t alright

The Western News delved into a topic that we believed needed a bigger voice. Over a series of articles we spoke to parents, teachers, counsellors, those on the ground trying to invoke change and the kids themselves about mental health.

Read more: Spike in youth mental health issues a crisis

Youth courageously told us their own battles with depression and other mental health issues their peers are struggling with. It was also shown that the growing number of youth in need of help is not being met with proportional resources. The Community Foundation of the South Okanagan Similkameen continues to fundraise to one day build a resource centre for teens to deal with this crisis.

We will continue to pursue this topic more in the new year.

Second shot at life

With tears streaming down the family’s faces, Mike Watson walked from the Air Canada Jazz plane into the outstretched arms of his children after arriving at Penticton Regional Airport from Hong Kong on a May evening.

Read more: Tearful welcome for South Okanagan living transplant patient

The Western News followed Watson’s journey as his life partner became his a life-saver. Lisa Needoba donated part of her liver to Watson, who two months earlier had been rushed to the same airport by ambulance with his life hanging in the balance.

On March 1, after a total of 20 hours of surgery the pair, who were high school sweethearts growing up in Oliver, were recovering.

For Watson, this is not the end of the story but rather the beginning of a new chapter in the family’s future.

Sporting world will have eye on Penticton

The eyes of the world will be on Penticton for the next two years.

This summer, Challenge Penticton will shift dates from August to July to make room for the 10-day International Triathlon Union Multisport World Championship.

Read more: Spotlight will shine on Penticton

Penticton is the first location to host all six world championship races (long-distance triathlon, cross triathlon, sprint and standard duathlon, aquabike and aquathlon) after the ITU changed the format of holding the races in different locations. When the event takes place, there will be live streams as well as broadcasts in Europe.

Read more: Multisport world championship impacted expected to be in the millions

Michael Brown, executive director of the Penticton event, said if the festival hits their goals, of which he did not go into specifics, it is written into their contract that the event will return in 2022. It was also written into their contract it would come back every five years after that.

Brown expects an economic impact on the city between $15 to $20 million.

Read more: Penticton gearing up to invite the world to ITU Multisport World Championship

The Scotties Tournament of Hearts will come to Penticton in February 2018. Curling Canada announced Penticton had won the bid to host to top Canadian female curlers in October.

“Well, it feels like Christmas today. Thank you Curling Canada,” said Rock the Bid co-chair Kim Kirkham, during a press conference at the South Okanagan Events Centre. “We’ve been waiting a long time. Good things come to those who wait. Better things come when you work hard. I’d like to thank the City of Penticton for believing in us.”

Read more: Penticton to host 2018 Scotties Tournament of Hearts

The economic benefit to the city is projected to be between $6 and $12 million. TSN/RDS, the official broadcast partner of Curling Canada’s Season of Champions, will provide complete coverage of the 2018 Scotties, from the opening round-robin draw to the gold-medal game. Tickets for the 2018 Scotties will go on sale early in 2017.

Fentanyl crisis

Figures from the Interior Health Authority (IHA) showed a deadly November in Penticton.

Read more: Fentanyl crisis in penticton as overdose numbers spike

Over the course of 12 days there were 25 overdose “events” compared to only one to five events each month from July to October.

The provincial numbers are even more staggering.

Read more: More overdoses as fentanyl epidemic grows in Penticton

On a cold Wednesday morning in Penticton mobile outreach worker Gwen Wain was at the Soupateria checking on her clients. She knew one of the 12 who had recently died.

“We have an overdose crisis right now and all of the service providers are really struggling with just the sheer numbers,” said Wain.

Chief Medical Health officer for the Interior Health Authority (IHA) Dr. Trevor Corneil said Thursday he was not surprised at the “spike” or cluster of overdose cases in Penticton.

“It wasn’t a question of if but a question of when,” said Corneil. “Is this new for Penticton? Absolutely. Is this important? Absolutely. Is this something that the community needs to pay attention to? Absolutely. What we’re able to say is we have the response mechanisms in place right now to act.”

IHA issued a level one alert for the region which involves communicating with the various agencies and hospital emergency wards and communicating with persons at risk through outreach workers.



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