Lumby residents cast ballots on prison

After months of turmoil and conflict, the fate of Lumby’s most divisive issue ever rests with voters.

Residents of both the village and electoral Area D will be asked in Saturday’s referendum if they support pursuing the development of a provincial correctional centre in the village.

“Everyone is tired at this point,” said Tracie Gobelle, spokesperson for a pro-prison group, of the tension that arose as residents began to choose sides.

“They are happy that the referendum is almost here.”

That sentiment is also common among those opposed to a facility.

“Many people are disappointed in the negative press Lumby has received during the past year,” said Dawne Kineshanko, with Lumby Concerned Citizens.

Village council and administration revealed early last year that it was lobbying the provincial government to possibly become the site of a new regional correctional facility.

Mayor Kevin Acton still defends that decision.

“It’s sparked a lot of interest in what Lumby is doing. It has started a lot of conversations. We’ve had developers come in to look at Lumby,” he said.

Acton is a strong advocate of a jail.

“It would create a lot of jobs and open up our industrial park,” said Acton.

However, many residents fear that a prison will negatively impact the town’s image and make it unattractive to new residents and businesses. They also believe the jobs won’t materialize and that inmates may hang around Lumby once they are released.

“There are too many unanswered questions. In my opinion, too much faith is being placed in the government,” said Kineshanko.

“We are asking people to think about the long-term future of our community.  Lumby has potential to develop in a healthy and sustainable manner.”

Gobelle says the potential economic benefits from a jail cannot be ignored.

“We have a lot of kids graduating and it would be great if they can get a job here instead of moving,” she said.

“There is an underlying criminal element in any area. Lumby is no different and we all get along. A correctional facility won’t change that.”

Rick Fairbairn, Area D director, is not telling residents how to vote.

“The constituents will decide for or against and I was elected to represent them. That’s the position I will follow,” he said.

The referendum is not binding under provincial legislation, but Acton doesn’t anticipate council ignoring the results.

“I can only speak for myself but my sense is council will go with what the community wants,” he said.

And that includes those residents who live outside of the village boundary in Area D of the regional district.

“We consider Area D as the Lumby community. It’s one community,” he said.

A similar opinion is held by Fairbairn.

“I think council will take into consideration the views of rural Lumby. They’re part of the community,” he said.

Polls will be open at the White Valley Community Centre Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

A high turnout is expected based on last week’s advance poll — 242 ballots from the village and 194 from Area D.

While both sides remain committed to their positions, they admit there is a need for Lumby to pull together after the referendum.

“If the community decides that’s not what they want, that’s what the community wants. Lumby has always been my hometown and always will be whether there is a correctional facility or not,” said Gobelle.

Kineshanko also believes there is a need to focus on the things residents share in common instead of any potential differences.

“We will look for opportunities to unite the people of Lumby and to move forward in a positive direction,” she said.

“There is commitment out there to see that Lumby creates a more diverse local economy through well developed economic planning, as laid out in the official community plan.”