Documentary shows how we can control flooding

A documentary debuting on Oct. 21 will show how the Okanagan is using natural assets to control flooding and prtect water quality.

“Utilizing natural assets proves to be the low-cost way to replace aging, depreciating infrastructure and to control flooding and water quality,” said Camille Saltman, managing director of entrepreneurship@UBCO, which is producing the program.

“Building major infrastructure projects and water treatment plans is unsustainable for our small communities up and down the Okanagan Valley. We need alternatives,” she said in a news release.

The program interviews community leaders like Kelowna city manager Doug Gilchrist; Tessa Terbasket, researcher for Okanagan Nation Alliance; Emanuel Machado, city administrator for Gibsons and chair of the Municipal Natural Asset Initiative; Anna Warwick Sears, CEO of Okanagan Basin Water Board; Herb Hammond, professional forester and forestry ecologist; Taryn Skalbania, co-founder of Peachland Watershed Protection Alliance; and researchers from the University of British Columbia.

“Guest participants include municipal leadership together with leading minds in land preservation, flooding and water quality. All are working on parallel initiatives. Our goal is to coalesce efforts and resources to create powerful outcomes for our region,” said David Saltman, Chair of the Okanagan Sustainability Council, which is a partner in the project.

Viewers will see how forests, streams and grasslands are being used to mitigate flooding and take a look at resiliency projects that incorporate Indigenous traditional knowledge as well as state-of-the-art technology.

The program will delve into work that is underway to predict flooding, protect vulnerable areas and make the region more climate resilient.

It will also look at watershed challenges that have been solved in Victoria and Vancouver but still need to be addressed in the Okanagan.

Viewers interested in the program can register for free at

Kelowna condo testing city parking policy

Sole KLO
There are only 28 resident parking stalls for the 42-suite, five-storey Sole KLO building, across from Okanagan College, and there are currently no stalls at all for visitors.

A shortage of resident and visitor parking at a Kelowna building has some residents complaining about one aspect of the city’s approach to development.

There are only 28 resident parking stalls for the 42-suite, five-storey Sole KLO building, across from Okanagan College, and there are currently no stalls at all for visitors.

“There is no place to park for deliveries, cleaners, contractors, friends and family,” Soul suite owner Sandra Gault says.

Parking woes are so acute, particularly with residents regularly being towed away from nearby lots, that a “tense” atmosphere has developed at the building, Gault says.

Municipal building rules allow for developers to provide fewer parking stalls than would normally be required if they instead contribute to city-managed parking reserve fund, used to pay for public parkades.

In the case of Sole KLO, the developer asked to provide about 15 less stalls than normal. Until last year, the so-called parking in-lieu charge was $7,500 per stall.

The city’s thinking in allowing fewer stalls than normal is that some suite purchasers might not have or want a car, and particularly so in the case of Sole KLO, given the building’s proximity to the amenity-rich South Pandosy neighbourhood, the college, and public transit, planner Adam Cseke said Friday.

A variety of city policies are aimed at reducing reliance on private automobiles and encouraging people to walk, cycle, or take transit, Cseke noted.

But such policies are sometimes unrealistic, Gault says, particularly if they create a parking problem of the kind she says exists at Sole KLO.

“The city may say that everyone should be riding bikes . . . but that is not going to happen,” she says. “‘Small living’ does not mean we are giving up our vehicles.”

Because parking in-lieu discussions are generally between the developer and planning staff, city council did not have to approve the parking situation at Sole KLO.

The city tells developers they should inform buyers about the parking situation at any newly-constructed building, Cseke says. As well, buyers have a responsibility to do their due diligence.

A marketing website for Sole KLO, where units ranging from stuidos to three-bedroom penthouses are now sold out, states: ‘Continuing the trend toward ‘Big Life. Small Footprint’ living, owners at Sole KLO can live carefree of car costs and maintenance.’

At Sole KLO, the parking woes are compounded by the lack of nearby on-street parking, Cseke acknowledges.

Efforts are underway to designate at least two stalls for visitor parking at Sole, Cseke said, and there is a small turnaround area that can be used for quick deliveries, he said.

Recently, the city reviewed how much it costs to build parkades and officials decided the $7,500 per stall parking-in-lieu charge being collected from developers was much too low. It has now been increased to $33,000.

“It’s much more cost-prohibitive now for developers to request parking-in-lieu than it was before the increase,” Cseke said.

B.C. taxpayers deserve better than Site C

BC Hydro says pandemic hits Site C project, expect delays, cost increases
British Columbia’s massive Site C hydroelectric dam project has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and now faces construction delays and rising costs. The Site C Dam location is seen along the Peace River in Fort St. John, B.C., Tuesday, April 18, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Whoever forms the next provincial government will have to deal with all the problems associated with the dam at Site C on the Peace River.

The long history of questionable management by both BC Hydro and the civil servants in the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum resources has culminated in a major political challenge.

Let’s take BC Hydro first.

For more than three decades, they have consistently over-estimated the future growth in demand for electricity. Moreover, they have used those estimates to justify investment in Site C. The existing capacity of electricity generation in BC is about 71 gigawatt hours — not counting the 5 gigawatt hours we are entitled to claim under the Columbia River treaty — and current demand is about 51 gigawatt hours. The surplus of about 20 gigawatt hours is sold on the spot market at below the cost of generation, mainly to the U.S; so, BC Hydro and its ratepayers are, in effect, subsidizing industry south of the border.

The extended period of determined over-estimation should have led to some firings, but these never came about.

Were that not enough, the same wizards at Hydro decided to hedge against future rises in interest rates, assuming that they would rise. To date, that strategy has cost more than $1 billion.

Guess who gets to cover this loss? You see that person every day in your mirror. Did anybody get canned for this blunder? Nope.

The board of BC Hydro is still packed mainly with faithful Liberals who firmly supported hydroelectric development even in the face of existing surplus production. While the NDP government changed the chairperson, the rest just carry on. Why?

Were the situation at BC Hydro itself not bad enough, the staff of the Ministry responsible for BC Hydro has also been filled with ardent believers in Site C. It is the biggest public works project in provincial history and is already several billion dollars over budget and likely to cost $10 billion more to finish.

This sad litany of human failings is still not the whole story; it appears that the geological underpinnings of the dam at Site C are now discovered to be less than ideal.

What the new government to be elected later this month needs to do is hire experts from outside the province – that is, not dependent for their livelihoods on contracts from BC Hydro – to undertake a through review of the entire project, including actions by BC Hydro and the Ministry of Energy Mines and Petroleum Resources. The experts should then advise whether the project should be closed down, at least until demand justifies its completion. They should also opine on what, if any, changes in personnel are required. Once their report is finished, the government must take the recommended actions, however unpalatable, in order to avoid a possible financial disaster to BC Hydro and BC ratepayers. Rating agencies consider BC Hydro’s debt as a liability of the Province.

How did we get here?

BC Hydro has for decades carefully avoided looking at alternative means of generating needed power. They argued, for example, that there is no data on thermal sites in B.C. (What about the 1,000 plus drilling sites in the northeast alone?)

Former BC Liberal Premiers Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark both loved Site C and the attention it brought, but they apparently never questioned the weak business case that underpinned the entire project. Given the significant cost of completing the project and the fact that, if completed now, it will likely lose money for at least 20 years, the ratepayers of B.C. might well ask why are we sending good money after bad.

Surely there are alternatives that could yield a greater return than needless increases in power generation.

David Bond is a retired bank economist living in Kelowna.

Trout Creek motel could become apartments

Summerland Motel
These two buildings at the Summerland Motel would become long-term rental apartments under a plan that’s going to a public hearing Oct. 26.JOE FRIES/Penticton Herald

Two of the buildings that make up the Summerland Motel would be renovated and turned into 27 long-term rental apartments, according to a proposal that’s going to a public hearing in October.

The owner of the motel, which is actually located in the Trout Creek neighbourhood, intends to subdivide the site into two lots. One existing building on the northern lot bordering Tait Street and Highway 97 would be retained as motel rooms, while two buildings on the southern lot would be turned into five one-bedroom apartments and 22 studio units.

“Our experience has been that there is substantial demand for such units,” owner John Lathey wrote in a letter to Summerland council that also notes he has no intention of offering the apartments as vacation rentals.

“The reason we are looking for rezoning for our property is precisely not to go into short-term rentals,” wrote Lathey.

The plan requires a suite of regulatory approvals, including zoning and Official Community Plan amendments, which already have the support of district staff.

“Staff believe that the proposed OCP and zoning amendments will allow for the addition of a valuable stock of rental units to the district at no cost to the taxpayer and help contribute to our ultimate goal of accommodating an increased range of housing types,” planning technician Alex Costin told council.

Council later voted 5-0 – with Toni Boot on leave from her post as mayor and Coun. Doug Patan absent– to give tentative approval to the amendments and send the matter to a public hearing Oct. 26. Council also voted to expand from 30 to 100 metres the surrounding area in which neighbours will be notified about the proposal.

“That is a big change for that area,” said Coun. Erin Trainer, “so I would definitely like to hear what the neighbourhood has to say.”

Summerland council in 2019 approved a development variance permit to allow for a 24-unit motel nearby at the corner of Johnson Street and Highway 97, but nothing has come of that plan.

Summerland urged to take swing at indoor tennis

Indoor tennis
Kids swinging their raquets at the UBC Tennis Club in 2019. An effort is underway to build indoor tennis courts in Summerland.

Penticton’s loss could be Summerland’s gain.

As the City of Penticton continues dragging its heels on a request to make good on a 14-year-old promise to build new indoor tennis courts, the District of Summerland has an opportunity to corner the market, council was told at its meeting Monday.

“There’s no indoor tennis anywhere in the South Okanagan. There are facilities in Kelowna, there’s a facility in Vernon, there’s a facility in Kamloops, but there’s nothing (in Summerland) and to the south of us,” said Bill Everitt, past-president of Summerland’s Lakeshore Raquets Club

“For Summerland to host the only indoor tennis facility in the South Okanagan, we think, would be a big boost for our town, bringing tennis players from around the valley to stay and play with the economic benefits that follow.”

Everitt suggested indoor tennis courts could be incorporated in the proposed Summerland health and recreation centre, which is under discussion now. Including indoor tennis courts as part of a larger facility would reduce capital costs, he said, while making the community more attractive to families and retirees.

“We have, essentially, a two- or three-month playing time (outdoors) with shoulder seasons on the front and back end. Trying to develop any kinds of programs with kids, with schools, is very limited,” added Everitt.

He submitted to council letters of support from every tennis club in the region, along with information from Tennis Canada that claims it’s the third-most-popular sport among new Canadians.

Coun. Doug Holmes suggested tennis courts will be as important to future generations of Canadians as swimming pools and arenas were to previous generations.

“If you think of the sports that are available here, they’re not really the sports that are of interest to a diverse population,” said Holmes.

“If we’re talking about tackling systemic racism and institutional bias, we have to look at all the services and facilities that we operate, we have to look at ourselves, and is there a way to address that through what we provide our people.”

Summerland’s recreation manager, Lori Mullen, said consultants hired to design the new health and recreation centre have already heard the tennis presentation and are considering courts as part of a larger, multi-purpose facility.

As envisioned, the new health and creation centre would replace Summerland’s failing aquatic centre and the undersized gym at Summerland Secondary School, plus include space for a new primary clinic and other health professionals.

The partners in the project are School District 67, District of Summerland, Interior Health and South Okanagan Similkameen Division of Family Practice.

Funding has not yet been lined up for the centre, except for $10 million committed by SD 67 to replace the school gym.

Penticton city council in February voted to turn down a request for a new tennis bubble while a broader review of municipally owned assets is underway. The last such bubble was torn down in 2007 to make way for the South Okanagan Events Centre. City council of the day pledged to rebuild it elsewhere, but that never happened.

Owning their own restaurant has always been a dream for the Khatari family

 New business

The new Penticton Indian Cuisine restaurant at 325 Main Street opened its doors earlier this month. It will be a family-run business as parents Dambar and Sita will be preparing the meals which will be served by their children Bashal (far left), Asmita and Rahul. The restaurant will feature authentic cuisine from India and Nepal.

It will very much be a family affair when customers sit down to dine at Penticton’s newest downtown restaurant.

The Khatari family, which includes parents Dambar and Sita and their children Bishal, Rahul, and Asmita, are the proud new owners of the Penticton Indian Cuisine Restaurant, located at 325 Main St. right next door to Mykonos.

The restaurant is in the same location as the former Annupurna Restaurant, which like Penticton Indian Cuisine, features a combination of food from India and Nepal, where the Khatari family originates from.

The family took over possession of the restaurant in late May and officially opened its doors to customers earlier this week on June 15.

Owning their own restaurant has been the dream of his parents and family for as long as he can remember, said Bishal.

“My parents have been cooking at another restaurant in town for a few years and at restaurants around the world,” he said. “They have been working in the restaurant industry for over two decades. They started in India and then moved to Cyprus. Then they moved to Japan and from there to Canada. They have always been working for someone else.

“They didn’t plan this, but an opportunity came up recently and they thought we should go for it and here we are today.”

The previous owners of Annapurna had their business on the market for some time and his parents were thrilled to have the opportunity to own and operate their own establishment for the first time, he said.

The restaurant will feature authentic Indian and Nepalese cuisine, including such standards at butter chicken, vegetarian and chicken samosas, pakoras, kormas, and a variety of mixed vegetable and chicken, lamb and beef plates.

“Our family is originally from Nepal, so we added several popular Nepalese dishes as well,” he said.

They include momos, sel roti, gundruk, bara, chatamari and more.

There are also several vegetarian dishes featuring tofu and soy bean items.

Being able to work with his parents and siblings in a family-owned business is something all members of the Khatari clan are very much looking forward to, said Bishal.

“Mom and Dad will be doing the cooking, but we will all be working together,” he said. “We’re a very tight-knit family and at all the other restaurants my parents worked at over the past few years, me and my brother and sister all worked at the front of house, so it’s nothing new for us.”

The Khataris invite all food lovers to come and sample their menu and promise they will enjoy a pleasant dining experience.

“We would like to ask people to give us a try,” he said. “We offer fresh food, great quality, good portions and reasonable prices.”

Like all other restaurant owners in B.C., Penticton Indian Cuisine has opened featuring plenty of space between tables to allow for social distancing and they also have strict cleaning procedures to protect customers, he said.

The restaurant is also offering disposable menus that are tossed out after each customer visit.

Because the restaurant has just opened and the Khatari family is trying to build a loyal clientele, they are offering both in-house service as well as takeout.

“Right now we’re relying on both,” he said. “Since most of the restaurants in town have just been allowed to open, people are slowly starting to come in, but most of our business this first week has been take out, We’re obviously going to rely on both in-house and takeout to get established.”

Penticton Indian Cuisine will be open seven days a week from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m.

For more information or to book a reservation, call the restaurant at 778-476-2683.

Hiking author’s favourite trail is all of them

Makin' Trails
Judie Steeves is the co-author of Okanagan Trips and Trails.

Hiking author’s favourite trail is all of them

The series on the best Okanagan trails takes a break this week with a request for feedback from readers, plus the latest version of a popular outdoors guide.

This spring, the series has featured the following trails up and down the valley: Grand Kelowna Triangle; Wood Lake Loop; Skaha Lake Loop; Okanagan Rail Trail; International Hike and Bike Trail (South Okanagan); Black Mountain Regional Park; Myra Canyon in Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park; Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park; Rose Valley Regional Park; and Spion Kop Mountain (Lake Country).

In recent weeks, the Sheriff surveyed outdoor recreation buddies and those he met on the trail asking about their favourite trail or those not yet featured. The feedback shows the Okanagan indeed has an incredible variety of trails fulfilling a wide variety of appetites for outdoor adventure. Email to have your say.

Trails that haven’t been included in the series so far, include Three Blind Mice mountain bike trails east of Penticton, KVR Trail from Penticton to Little Tunnel, Mount Boucherie in West Kelowna, Knox Mountain Park in Kelowna, Bear Creek Provincial Park canyon and Fintry Provincial Park falls on the Westside north of West Kelowna.

One way to discover new trails is to ask someone like Judie Steeves who has spent her whole life exploring, and has again teamed up with Murphy Shewchuk for the new version of their guide book, Okanagan Trips and Trails. It is available wherever books are sold, including local wineries in their gift shops.

The latest edition is updated, fully revised and expanded. Steeves is elated that this guide to British Columbia’s Okanagan-Similkameen regions has hundreds of colour photos to illustrate “the many stunning views from some of Canada’s most scenic and awe-inspiring wild places.”

Its 483 pages not only tell you where to hike, bike, boat, fish and camp, but includes the Southern Interior’s heritage, thanks to Shewchuk’s lifelong interest in B.C. history. It also has chapters on the Top Five Okanagan Birding Locations, Birding Walks in Kelowna and Public Gardens in Kelowna.

Trails at ski resorts include Apex and Mount Baldy in the South Okanagan, Big White and Telemark in the Central Okanagan, and Silver Star and Sovereign Lake in the North Okanagan.

This fine book is a must-have for any serious outdoor explorer, but it may take a while to read every page. The Sheriff likes to browse and when he finds a bucket-list outing, he highlights it with yellow marker on the Contents page at the front.

“Actually, it’s been really fun work! It’s taken me years and years of hiking to put it together, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” says Steeves.

“I admit that in the first half-hour on many of the trails, I’ve wondered briefly whether I really want to do this. But then, I look out over the view that’s starting to appear below me, or the flowers dotting the hillside beside me, and I get my breath back. Lots of the trails involve an uphill start because we live in this valley. But that also means as you climb, the panoramic views can take your breath away, just as the hike does,” she says with a laugh.

“I honestly can’t give you a single trail that’s my favourite because it depends on the time of year and my mood. For that reason, we’re incredibly lucky to have such a variety of trails to hike.

“In mid-summer, I simply love hiking in Cathedral Provincial Park, partly because the meadows of alpine wildflowers and the views out over those lakes are so awe-inspiring.

“But in spring, Knox Mountain Park is among the first spots wildflowers appear because it’s so close to the valley bottom.

“Rose Valley (Regional Park) is one of my favourite places to hike with its views and variety of habitat. But then, I am on the boards of two local land trusts, both of which contributed funds to establish that park. So it’s dear to my heart.

“I also love the High Rim and Okanagan Highlands trails, especially from Canyon Lake to Little White, and particularly in summer.

“Fintry (Provincial Park) is one of my favourite family parks in the Okanagan for its history and lakefront. But for hiking, Okanagan Mountain (Provincial Park) is far better.

“For a workout, the new Mount Boucherie trails are fantastic with the reward of a grand view from the top. But the views from Pincushion in Peachland and the new Black Mountain Regional Park are also amazing.

“Guess I’m a bit long-winded but I am passionate about this valley’s natural areas. We’re very lucky to have preserved some of them, and we must make sure a few more are kept natural too.”

Okanagan braces for tourism wave

 The Peach

Workers at The Peach snack shop on the Penticton waterfront have added masks to their uniforms this year. But they’re ready to dish up ice cream to visitors.

Tourism Kelowna’s message to the rest of the province is: “We’re ready.”

As B.C. eases restrictions on travel after a near total shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, Okanagan communities are again inviting tourists to the Valley.

“We’re delighted the province has moved into Phase 3 reopening. I mean delighted. That’s the best news we could have heard,” said Lisanne Ballantyne, president and CEO of Tourism Kelowna.

“The province’s reliance on short-haul markets to help economic recovery completely aligns with Kelowna. The majority of people are driving in for vacations when they’re coming into the Kelowna area, so that is great news for us. We’re perfectly positioned going forward.”

The No. 1 question asked at the Kelowna Visitor Centre from prospective travellers is: “I’m thinking about coming, are you ready?”

Ballantyne said it’s crucial that businesses post on social media that they have protocols in place, they are operating safely, and they are open for business.

She also encouraged locals to post about the beautiful Okanagan and their favourite businesses on their social media feeds.

“Hearing from a tourism office that a destination is ready to welcome visitors is great,” she said. “It becomes very impactful when a restaurant owner or a restaurant fan posts on social media that: ‘My favourite restaurant is open. They are doing a great job on physical distancing, and, wow, Kelowna is ready.’”

Starting Monday, Bernard Avenue in downtown Kelowna will close to vehicles so businesses can expand their patios. It’s expected to stay closed until Sept. 8. Ballantyne said that kind of change will draw people to Kelowna

Being able to spread out into the street for easier shopping, dining, tasting or other experiences can make the difference between profit, or not.

The pandemic hit just as Kelowna was seeing record numbers of tourists in 2019, emerging as a four-season destination.

“We were excited going into 2020, and then COVID hit,” said Ballantyne.

Kelowna airport usually sees two million passengers a year, but is down by 95%.

Visitation in May was down 44% from this time last year, and May occupancy was at about 19%, when normally it’s about 75% at this time of year.

June numbers are expected to improve.

To survive, a number of businesses closed in March or delayed their openings.

“It’s really important to note that returning to travel unfortunately doesn’t necessarily mean returning to profitability. Some businesses are still facing some significant challenges,” she said.

“We’re definitely seeing movement in the right direction.”

Still, there are a lot of “ifs” right now – including if tourism businesses can make it through the summer and if there’s a bump in visitors this fall.

If the right circumstances align, many businesses should be able to start proper recovery, said Ballantyne.

She added that many owners would consider 50% of last year’s business as a success this year.

“If they could make it through the summer, they felt they would be all right,” she said.

Some businesses have completely pivoted to survive, offering curbside pickups or moving completely online. Ballantyne said physical distancing is the most challenging restriction affecting operators. It means businesses like wine tours and restaurants will cater to fewer customers at a time.

“People can’t congregate in a tasting room like they used to,” she said.

Outdoor adventures, meanwhile – like hiking, biking, and boating suppliers – are business as usual, with increased sanitization, of course.

Right now, tourism organizations are only advertising in parts of B.C. “Ideally, by September we’ll be advertising throughout Western Canada,” she said.

However, it appears U.S. visitors may not be coming for some time. Americans, who had been emerging pre-pandemic as a long-term growth market, are facing the world’s highest number of COVID-19 cases, meaning the border could remain closed indefinitely. Tourism Kelowna had been focusing on group travel, corporate conferences and large-scale meetings for U.S. visitors.

It’s a lucrative demographic as business travellers spend more money.

The 50-person cap on groups, though, is affecting that sector. Some advocacy groups are encouraging the province consider approving larger groups on a venue-by-venue basis — for example, an event at an amphitheatre could work better than an indoor space, a conference is easier to social distance at than a concert.

In the South Okanagan, communities have teamed up and formed the South Okanagan Tourism Alliance. It’s a collaboration to promote travel into the region as a whole.

It’s based on an understanding that places like Penticton, Oliver, Osoyoos and Summerland aren’t as big as Kelowna or Kamloops, and they don’t have the same resources.

“What we’re trying to do here is reestablish people to come back into the community and into the South Okanagan region,” said Thom Tischik, executive director of Travel Penticton,

“There’s some optimism of course that there’s going to be some more traffic and that’s certainly what we are all looking for.”

He reminded people not to travel if they’re sick; reserve ahead of time to book accommodation; and make safe choices. That means understanding your limits if you’re doing activities, like rock climbing, floating the channel or mountain biking.

“We want to try to make sure that everybody stays safe. And not only from a COVID situation but also for your own capacity. We’re all eager to get out to experience the province, and that’s awesome. We want to make sure that whatever you’re doing you’re doing it safely,” said Tischik.

Penticton has been helping businesses weather COVID-19 by asking locals to support local businesses, including restaurants, breweries and wineries. Many got on board.

“For Penticton, the initial start of COVID was at a quieter time for us,” he said.

“We have had virtually every event from COVID’s start right through to the end of August cancel for now or postpone to next year. That’s been a hit.”

B.C. Premier John Horgan advised British Columbians who want to travel within the province this summer to plan ahead and be respectful while visiting other communities, especially rural towns.

“As we carefully turn up the dial on our activity, we can now look to travel safely around the province. But as we hit the open roads this summer, we must remember we are not leaving COVID-19 behind, and we need to continue to do our part to bend the curve and protect the progress we’ve made,” said Horgan.

The provincial health officer has laid out travel guidelines for everyone travelling to and within B.C.:

— pre-trip planning and research on available resources at arriving destination;

— respecting any local travel advisories to isolated and remote communities;

— no travelling for anyone who is sick, and if symptoms develop while travelling, self isolate immediately and call 8-1-1 for guidance and testing;

— practising safe physical distancing of two metres at all times;

— spending time in small groups and open spaces; and

— practising good hygiene, including frequent hand washing and cleaning.

Summerland Coun. Richard Barkwill comments on proposed solar project

Letters to the Editor
Richard Barkwill

EDITOR’S NOTE: Summerland Coun. Richard Barkwill submitted the following essay as a letter to the editor. It well exceed our 400 word limit for print. As this is an important issue, and with Barkwill being a member of Council, we are publishing the letter unedited and in its entirety for our online readers.

Dear Editor:

It was a dark and stormy night on February 27th, 2019 – well, I don’t really think it was stormy, but it was a dark night. A dark night for transparency in local government as Summerland Council, in a closed meeting, based on a report received that day, reversed long standing District land use plans and approved the use of municipal land at the toe of Cartwright for a solar project.

Why was it a dark night for municipal transparency? To begin with, the meeting never should have been in a closed session of Council. Section 90 of the Community Charter provides specific reasons for which councils can go into closed session, and this decision did not involve any of them.

I believe that council should never have made such a major decision based on a report we only received that day. This did not allow for proper review by us, much less you, the public. Making matters worse, a lot of information was presented verbally and not documented in the report, which is the third major flaw in this process.

I addressed this with the CAO the next day and a summary of what was said was provided, although I dispute whether it is an accurate summary – which illustrates one reason why councils should not be making major decisions based on verbal reports.

To summarize the errors, the report was not received in advance, it was a closed meeting and much of the information was presented verbally. There is no point in discussing how that happened, the buck stops at the Council table.

Those of you who followed the land swap issue will remember that future growth on ALR land on the North and East of the downtown area was turned down. Preserving ALR land was deemed to be a higher priority than densification through development of lands close to downtown. There is still densification through infill.

This left us with the lands to the West of town as the largest area for future growth. One can readily see that by looking at the Urban Growth Area on the Official Community Plan.

In fact, this has been the plan for many years. At a subsequent meeting of council, former Mayors Peter Waterman and David Gregory came to remind council of this, and the fact that the sewer line down Prairie Valley was oversized when installed in 1999 to accommodate growth to the West. This fell on deaf ears.

To economically get sewer out to Deer Ridge and beyond, it has to be done in a stepwise fashion. The land closest to town must be developed first and the next piece of prime land to be developed in that direction is the District owned land at the toe of Cartwright that is proposed for the solar site.

After this Sunset Court, which already has the pipes in the ground in anticipation of sewer extending West can connect. Beyond that, there is the existing Deer Ridge area where many people are having issues with septic fields with limited capacity in rocky ground, and beyond that again is a large area of undeveloped land.

The previous council (which was largely the same people) turned down a development next to Deer Ridge because it did not have sewer. At the time council gave assurances to the developer that we would work on getting sewer out that way as soon as possible. The video of that meeting is worth watching and can be found here.

The report prepared by planning staff at the time is also very illustrative of the communities plans to develop Cartwright and beyond. This report is can be found on the Summerland District’s website at

The land proposed for the solar site is very valuable for development. How valuable? We don’t know because council defeated my resolution to have an appraisal done. To me, ignoring the value of the land you are going to put a temporary, $7,000.000 solar site on is not how you make a business decision.

That is the other issue. It appears to me that some councillors supported this location because it would be temporary. In the meantime, it blocks much of the planned development in Summerland and then at the end of 20 or 25 years you tear it all down and abandon $2.8 million in design, engineering, construction and installation costs. Add to those wasted installation costs, the cost of taking it all out.

Would it not make much more sense to put it somewhere where it could stay, does not impede our development, and could possibly expand?

Staff, who had been here only a very short time, decided without any consultation, that the Cartwright site “is not an ideal location for future residential or commercial development due to distance from downtown, schools, walkable amenities and similar community infrastructure.”

I couldn’t disagree more. Show me another area of developable land of that size closer to amenities and infrastructure! Furthermore, the statement “is not an ideal location for future residential…….” is a misleading statement. It implies that we should not build there, but what it is really saying is that the site is not perfect. What site is ideal? How much “ideal” land do we have? The community already decided that ALR land was off the table.

This issue has not been presented for public discussion as a land use decision should be. As councillor Van Alphen has said, “We’ve had five times more discussion about where to put a 1-acre dog park than where to put a five-acre Solar site.”

Councillor Doug  Patan has also wisely pointed out that if you want to have solar on this site, we could accelerate the new building codes and require it to be on each of the housing units and provide resiliency for power through a much cheaper diesel backup generator – which would last much longer than batteries in an emergency anyway.”

I would like to finish with three last important points.

1) There is little if any merit to the “resiliency” argument because our critical infrastructure already has longer lasting back up diesel generators and battery storage is limited and would expensive to wire in to microgrid.

2) It is not a GHG emissions reduction project.

3) Everything that I can find says that a community solar project is not economically viable in our area at this time. Four examples are:

A) Kimberley invested $5.5 million in the Sunshine Mine and sold it for $2 million after three years.

B) The National Energy Regulator did a study called The Economics of Solar Power which estimates that solar would cost 146% of available hydro power.

C) The BC Utilities Commission turned down a project by Fortis for a solar project in the Ellison area of Kelowna saying it was not in the public interest, no dollar savings and no material green house gas emission reduction

D) Midgard Consulting Inc. recently completed an alternative energy study for Penticton and determined that stand alone solar was not worth pursuing. Note: Midgard has consulted on over 75 solar projects in Canada.

Why would Summerland Council want a solar project, that is temporary, wasting over $2,800,000 of design and construction cost and put on the most valuable piece of developable land the District owns? I don’t know.

You will have to call or write one of the four council members who support it and ask them. But I can’t tell you which ones they are because it was a decision made in a closed meeting, one dark night in February 2019.

Richard Barkwill BSc (Agr), MBA, CPA


Summerland solar feud boils over

A design concept for a proposed solar array operated by the District of Summerland. The projected cost to local taxpayers is $1 million.

Simmering tensions rose to a boil Monday, as Summerland councillors spent nearly three hours debating the merits of a proposed solar project that will now be the focus of a public meeting in July.

The $7-million project, which would provide enough power to run 100 homes, is slated for a five-acre municipally owned lot at 13500 Prairie Valley Rd. at the base of Cartwright Mountain.

The site was chosen as the preferred location by council at a closed meeting in April 2019 that some of those present now say should have been public.

“Shame on us all,” said Coun. Marty Van Alphen.

“We should have had a selection of lands to be able to go public, and let the public have some input.”

Coun. Erin Trainer said in reply she found Van Alphen’s comments “very offensive,” but admitted the site approval “shouldn’t have been done that way.”

The harshest words, however, were reserved for Coun. Richard Barkwill, who earlier Monday had a 1,200-word letter to the editor published on The Herald’s website that raised even more questions about the project and called for an appraisal of the site’s value.

Coun. Erin Carlson described the open letter as “inappropriate” and meant to “fan the flames on a project that has been a council priority for years,” while Coun. Doug Holmes said it contains misinformation.

“It seems to me there’s an orchestrated campaign in this community to sabotage this whole project, and it has to stop,” said Holmes.

Mayor Toni Boot suggested the letter was unfair to others on council.

“I don’t think that shows, in my opinion, a satisfactory level of integrity, and by doing so you are suggesting this is a debate that should be held in the corridors of the media and on display for the media and all of their readership,” said Boot.

“It gets back to our whole communications policy that we’ve talked about several time since this council was elected. I, for one, am not comfortable or particularly pleased with the way that you have gone about bringing attention to this matter by putting it out to the public as a letter to the editor.”

Barkwill’s letter describes the February 2019 closed meeting as a “dark night for transparency in local government.”

“I believe that council should never have made such a major decision based on a report we only received that day. This did not allow for proper review by us, much less you, the public,” writes Barkwill.

He goes on to argue the preferred site is the next logical place for westward expansion of the community, and that the project doesn’t make as much financial or environmental sense as council is being led to believe.

“Why would Summerland council want a solar project that is temporary, wasting over $2.8 million of design and construction cost and put on the most valuable piece of developable land the district owns? I don’t know,” Barkwill’s letter concludes.

“You will have to call or write one of the four council members who support it and ask them. But I can’t tell you which ones they are because it was a decision made in a closed meeting, one dark night in February 2019.”

Despite the onslaught of criticism from his peers at Monday’s meeting, Barkwill stood by the letter.

“I do think all these things should be in the public domain, and they haven’t been, and I’m happy they’re now in the public domain,” said Barkwill.

The public will get its say at a meeting July 13 at the arena that will combine in-person attendance – up to 50 people including staff, council and guests – with a livestream.

Representatives from five consulting firms that have already done work on the project will be in attendance, and a land appraisal for 13500 Prairie Valley Rd. is also expected to be ready by then.

The project, made possible by a $6-million federal grant, is expected to generate one megawatt of electricity, enough to power approximately 100 Summerland homes for a year. The batteries at the site would be able to store two megawatts of power.

One of the studies already done on the project estimates Summerland’s $980,000 investment would be paid back in just over five years through the addition of power to the district’s grid.