Hubert Pomerleau picks Red Delicious apples from an orchard in Summerland in this 2016 photo. This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, fruit growers throughout British Columbia will face additional challenges. (Summerland Review file photo)

Summerland Rodeo Grounds proposed as site to house temporary agricultural workers

Residents voiced opposition to the use of the Summerland Rodeo Grounds, citing health concerns

The municipality of Summerland is examining ways to provide housing for temporary agricultural workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, but a proposed site is not well received by the community.

At the afternoon council meeting on June 22, council received a report on temporary domestic agricultural worker housing during the pandemic.

These are workers, often from eastern Canada, who come to the region to work in tree fruit and viticulture industries.

The harvest season peaks in late June and early July with the cherry harvest and continues into the fall for apples and grapes.

In the past, workers have camped on farms where they are working, but this year, because of the COVID-19 precautions, the province is looking to set up other safe and sanitary accommodations for these workers.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: RDOS implements precautions for migrant workers at South Okanagan campground

READ ALSO: Regional district gives approval for farm worker housing near Summerland

In Summerland, the rodeo grounds has been considered as a potential location. However, Summerland council has received numerous letters opposing this location.

“Unless substantial improvements are made at the rodeo grounds to update the sanitation and kitchen facilities, I don’t believe the existing facilities can handle 150 people for three to four months,” Bonnie Bordas wrote.

She added that Prairie Valley Road cannot handle the additional traffic volumes. Several others shared in this concern, some further highlighting concerns regarding potential fire risks, liability concerns, security, costs, existing infrastructure damage, and potential health risk to the community.

According to one letter, about 200 people regularily use the rodeo grounds for recreation, clinics and riding events.

“As an equestrian, I am angry that a space that I, being immune compromised, can safely ride my horse, will be taken away. And my safety and security within my community will be compromised at the same time,” said Maureen Bildfell.

Sandra Goodall also expressed health concerns about the use of the facility for housing agricultural workers.

“We have all worked so hard to keep our COVID-19 numbers down and as of now there are no reported cases in Interior Health. We don’t want Summerland to be where the next big COVID-19 outbreak happens,” she said.

In addition to health concerns, some believe housing large numbers of people here just isn’t possible.

Diana Huva, who was involved with the original Summerland Trail Riders when the rodeo grounds was constructed, believes it is not a suitable site for agricultural workers. She said the septic system does not have the capacity to accommodate a large number of people over an extended period of time, and the water at the site is not drinkable.

“Housing workers will completely ruin everything we have worked so hard on and it will be off limits for the Summerland residents to use for their horses which is exactly the intention of the facility,” said Heidi Blaszak.

She said the rodeo grounds has inadequate washroom and shower facilities, and the fire risk in the area is high.

Some suggested allowing workers to camp in Living Memorial Park, move portable toilets and showers for their use, and charge them a minimal fee.

Linda Netherton expressed support for the proposed location.

“This is a one-time emergency… I’m willing to give up a little to support a struggling industry that is key to our region and lifestyle, while offering something to individuals who are at the lowest income and with very limited other opportunities,” she said.

Summerland council has received the report on temporary housing.

No decision on any site will occur until all the information has been provided to council and consultation with the appropriate stakeholders has occurred.

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