With Kelowna out of the running, Lumby’s chances for a prison may have improved.
The Ministry of the Solicitor General has indicated government-owned land in north Kelowna — across from Lake Country and the Okanagan Indian Reserve — will not be used for a correctional facility.
“It takes one player off the table and there will be a better chance of Lumby getting it if it passes at the referendum,” said Mayor Kevin Acton.
Lumby residents will go to the polls April 30 to say if they support pursuing the development of a prison within the village.
Acton isn’t surprised the government has abandoned the Kelowna site even though it is already zoned for a jail.
“The First Nations made it clear they didn’t want it and the province stated that part of the process was not to offend First Nations,” he said.
“I was concerned the City of Kelowna would find another piece of property but it’s not something they’ve done.”
The ministry says it’s important that local jurisdictions and residents be part of selecting a site.
“That’s why we’ve asked local governments to forward recommendations so that we can ensure we find the best site — one that has community support and meets all of the project criteria,” said a ministry spokesman.
“The Jim Bailey Road property was identified back in 1996 and it does not meet our current criteria.”
“At that time, residents and the neighbouring Okanagan Indian Band were opposed to the possibility of developing a provincial jail there, and that opposition remained consistent when the property was reconsidered as a potential site in 2008. Community support is a pre-requisite to any potential site.”
It’s also been suggested that the north Kelowna site is not large enough for the 360-cell facility the ministry is now proposing.
The government’s decision is being greeted positively by the Okanagan Indian Band.
“They should have made a decision a lot quicker than this but they did the right thing,” said Chief Fabian Alexis.
The band was concerned a prison would create safety issues for residents on the reserve, and impact opportunities for its tourism businesses.
Opposition also came from the District of Lake Country, which expressed concerns that its roads and other services would be impacted by a prison but it would not get any financial assistance from Victoria.
“The band was the major factor in the decision (not to proceed),” said Mayor James Baker.
“It’s so close to their development at Holiday Park.”
Alexis insists the ministry couldn’t avoid the opposition from the band and Lake Country.
“We were united in our beliefs. It was a good victory with our neighbouring community,” he said.
Acton believes Lumby’s only competition for a prison may be Penticton.
“They are getting a lot of support from the community there,” he said, admitting that is in contrast to the divisions that have occurred in Lumby.
The government has stated it wants a site in close proximity to the Kelowna courthouse.
Besides Kelowna, Acton points out that Lumby is also near courts in Vernon and Salmon Arm.
“We’re more central than Penticton,” he said.