The curious placement of a power pole on a public beach isn’t something regional officials want to keep discussing.
A group of North Westside residents has been denied permission to address the Central Okanagan regional district board about the pole, erected just a few feet from the shore of Okanagan Lake.
“It’s crazy that the regional district would put a power pole like this smack dab in the middle of a public beach,” North Westside Communities Association vice-president Michelle Carson said Tuesday.
“But what’s even more disturbing is how much money the regional district has spent fighting to keep that pole there. And now they’ve said they won’t even talk to us about it anymore,” Carson said.
The regional district sent an email to the NWCA in late September saying representatives of the group could not attend a future board meeting to talk about the power pole.
“As this is an operational matter, the delegation request is denied,” Mary Jane Drouin, the regional district’s manager of corporate services, writes in the email.
The provincial Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations initially issued a trespass notice against the regional district after the pole went up, according to documents obtained by the NWCA under a freedom-of-information request.
Invoices contained in those documents, Carson said, indicate the regional district spent $5,200 to get a report from a consultant that the pole should be left where it was placed.
“Then there’s all the staff time the regional district and the ministry would have devoted to this one issue,” Carson said. “None of it makes any sense, because we have an estimate that it would have cost only about $2,000 to simply move the pole farther away from the beach.”
The pole carries electricity to a boathouse owned by the regional district. Its placement so close to the waterline interferes with the public’s enjoyment of the beach, Carson said, and symbolizes what some North Westsiders say is the regional district’s indifferent approach to providing responsive local government services to the relatively remote community, home to about 1,100 people.
“They’d never try something like this on a beach closer to Kelowna,” Carson said. “They just plopped it here where it was cheapest to put it and thought we’d never notice. Well, we did notice, and we’re not happy about it.”
The province has now granted the regional district tenure for the land on which the pole sits, rendering its relocation unlikely.
Nevertheless, the pole has become a rallying cry of sorts for hundreds of North Westsiders who have signed a petition asking that the province fund a study looking at the possibility of the area being incorporated.
At the Oct. 13 regional board meeting, tensions rose as directors offered varying recollections of a conversation held on the topic with Peter Fassbender, the minister of community, sport and cultural development.
Board chairperson Gail Given, a Kelowna councillor, said Fassbender’s comments were that a provincially funded governance study for the North Westside would depend on a resolution asking for one from the regional board, which is dominated by Kelowna politicians.
But Wayne Carson, who represents North Westside, said Fassbender indicated such a study would be funded. And Mark Bartyik, representing the Ellison-Joe Rich area, also challenged Given’s description of the conversation with Fassbender.
Given responded in a loud voice: “You better not be calling me a liar right here and now because I’m going to lose it.”
Bartyik then said: “I was there. You can call me a liar if you like.”
Staff from the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development are expected to attend a future board meeting to discuss the possibility of a governance study for the North Westside area.
For his part, Fassbender sent the regional board a letter in mid-October that doesn’t offer much support for the idea of a large-scale governance study for North Westside.
A better approach, Fassbender suggests, would be a “small-scale review” of how local decision-making might be enhanced within the existing regional district system.
North Westside consists of communities such as Westshore Estates, Killiney Beach, Valley of the Sun and Fintry, as well as homes along Westside Road from north of La Casa resort to the Okanagan Indian band boundary.
It takes about an hour to drive from the North Westside down Westside Road to the regional district office on KLO Road in Kelowna, or 90 minutes going the other way through Vernon.
Among other things, North Westsiders are concerned about the lack of information on how their local tax dollars are spent, rising costs for water and the lack of amenities in parks.
“We’re as far away from the regional district as you can get, emotionally and physically, and it feels that way,” NWCA president Bob Andrews said in August.
“Many of us don’t believe we get the local government we should, and we’re interested in seeing if we can do better on our own,” Andrews said.