Okanagan Landing decision challenged

Former Vernon Mayor Wayne McGrath suggests the terms of Okanagan Landing annexation may be contravened.

A former mayor suggests the terms of Okanagan Landing annexation may be contravened.

Wayne McGrath, who was mayor when the Landing joined Vernon in 1993, is not pleased with the current city council’s decision to end the Okanagan Landing fire hall’s autonomy and bring it under a single operations model based at the downtown fire hall.

“The intent was for them to remain the same and have their own fire department,” he said.

“Up until now, that commitment has been honoured. With this (decision), there’s been no consultation with the community.”

Prior to the annexation vote in May 1993, McGrath wrote a letter to the Okanagan Landing/Bella Vista Citizens Group outlining the city’s actions if the jurisdictions merged.

The letter stated, “The  present volunteer fire department will be maintained. Any possible future changes would only be considered if requested by the Landing community.”

However, current city officials categorically deny McGrath’s claims that the firefighters’ decision has breached annexation terms.

“We’ve gone through the original letters patent (provincial legislation) and agreements and the proper process has been followed,” said Mayor Rob Sawatzky.

“I am confident this council made the right decision.”

The city has had five service contracts with the Landing firefighters association since 1993.

“All of them have a term and termination clause in them,” said Keith Green, fire chief.

“The letters patent alludes to the city taking over the service.”

McGrath says the city in 1993 had no concerns about the Landing fire hall acting separately from the Vernon hall, and it actually made other political changes more palatable for Landing residents.

“They wanted their independence (with fire services). It would have been a disincentive to annexation proceeding if that didn’t occur,” he said.

“There is a tradition and spirit of firefighting in the Landing.”

Some current members of city council have stated that the new operations model will provide consistent training for all firefighters in Vernon. But McGrath says that was never an issue during his tenure.

“Everyone was very happy with the level of training,” he said.

“I have never had reason to believe that Landing firefighters are any less capable than other firefighters.”