A multi-million-dollar upgrade to Greater Vernon’s water is getting a rough ride.
All five of Vernon’s mayoralty candidates say they will vote no Nov. 15 to borrowing $70 million for the Regional District of North Okanagan’s master water plan.
“We do need to move forward but in a way that citizens can afford it,” Mary-Jo O’Keefe told about 150 people at the Sustainable Environment Network Society forum at the Schubert Centre Thursday.
However, O’Keefe admits there is a risk if the community doesn’t proceed with the project.
“Interior Health can put on a health alert – ‘Don’t go to Vernon because they don’t have approved water.’”
Klaus Tribes insists more information is needed about the plan and potential water quality options before residents are asked to borrow money.
“The only way to get a proper review is to vote no. We need to go back to square one,” he said.
Jamie Morrow questions why RDNO is pushing ahead with the plan, which includes filtration on Duteau Creek.
“Why do we have such high standards? We need safe water but not for $70 million,” he said.
Victor Cumming says components of the master water plan, such as increasing reservoir storage make sense because of climate change.
“Unfortunately, it’s a package and there are pieces of the package I’m uncomfortable with.”
Akbal Mund also called for a further investigation of what needs to be done to ensure public health.
“There are some pieces (of the plan) that make sense but for $70 million, no,” he said.
Of the 13 councillor candidates that were also present Thursday, all of them also indicated they opposed the borrowing referendum.
Beyond water, a variety of other issues were also discussed at the forum, including urban agriculture, lake accesses, downtown revitalization, economic renewal, affordable housing, transit and traffic congestion.
There was considerable debate over the city’s decision to close the two tourism information centres and centralize the service next to Civic Arena.
“Tourism information booths are doing more with people who aren’t going there and it’s reduced the importance to have something to drive to,” said Cumming of people accessing social media for holiday planning.
Mund questioned the location of the centre.
“I’d like to see it downtown but I understand economically why we don’t have two,” he said.
Support for centralizing tourism information services came from O’Keefe, who is a current member of Vernon council.
“Council followed the advice of the tourism advisory board,” she said, adding that the volunteer board put considerable thought into the issue.
Morrow didn’t promise to revisit the issue if he is elected mayor.
“The decision is done and if you do anything else, it will cost a lot more money,” he said.
Tribes says closure of the north and south visitor centres will negatively impact the community.
“Tourism is important and I can’t understand how people find the existing one,” he said.
The next forum for Vernon mayoralty and councillor candidates is Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Performing Arts Centre.