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Vandalism, safety concerns prompt gate closure at Salmon Arm fairgrounds

Copper piping and electrical wiring stolen, washroom vandalized in recent incidents
As of Feb. 1, the northeast gate to the south Salmon Arm fairgrounds (next to the ROOTSandBLUES office building) will remain locked. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)

Recent costly incidents of theft and vandalism, as well as safety concerns, have prompted a tightening of security at the Salmon Arm fairgrounds.

A Jan. 29 post on the Salmon Arm Fair and Shuswap Lake Agricultural Association page on Facebook announced that as of Feb. 1, the northeast gate to the south fairgrounds (next to the ROOTSandBLUES office building) will be kept locked.

“The south and west gates will remain open as usual, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. to walkers and dog owners, but all fairground users must leave the grounds before the gates lock at 10 p.m.,” reads the post. This step is being taken by the Salmon Arm and Shuswap Lake Agricultural Association (SASLAA), with the City of Salmon Arm’s support, to “increase safety and security on the grounds.”

SASLAA, a non-profit organization, owns the north fairgrounds and maintains the south fairgrounds which are leased from the city.

Asked about the measure, Salmon Arm Fair manager Jim McEwan explained it follows several incidents on the south fairgrounds. He said the washrooms in the grandstand were broken into and vandalized, and fires started in the grandstand washrooms. Copper piping and electrical wiring was stolen and had to be replaced. That alone cost about $30,000.

”Paint is an ongoing challenge and an ongoing workload for us – all the graffiti and tagging that’s done,” said McEwan, adding a lot of damage was done over the winter to the women’s washroom in the grandstand. “That will probably be a couple thousand dollars.”

Another ongoing challenge has involved people living rough setting up camp on the fairgrounds. McEwan said SASLAA and the city has received calls from dog walkers commenting on tents being up on the south fairgrounds, some callers expressing concern for their safety.

“This is to keep the fairgrounds safe, keep the fairgrounds secure and maybe manage the fairgrounds better,” said McEwan.

Regarding those people living rough who frequent the fairgrounds, McEwan said he’s got to know a number of them over the past several months. He said there’s “a lot of good people there,” and that it’s ” just a select few who seem to do the damage.”

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McEwan noted as it is city property, the south fairgrounds fall under municipal bylaws which were recently overhauled to address temporary structures, camping and homeless encampments in parks and open spaces.

“As soon as we see or hear of a tent being set up and somebody sleeping on the fairgrounds property, they’re given 24 hours to pack up and move on…,” said McEwan, adding Salmon Arm RCMP have been very helpful and supportive.

“We try not to contact the RCMP that often, just because I know how busy they are, but it does add that extra level of profeessionalism when we need it, and as I say, they’ve been really great at being able to show up and help, and sometimes we both just stand there and wait as a person packs up and guide them on their way.”

The fairgrounds are monitored by a security company, and there are some security measures in place on site.

McEwan is also grateful to the Salmon Arm Fire Department for their response to fires on the fairgrounds. Referring to a 2022 suspicious fire that destroyed two empty horse barns at the Alberni District Fall Fairgrounds, McEwan said he is especially concerned about an incident like that occurring here.

“It would be a real tragedy if we lost a barn due to a fire, and these barns are old and the wood is very dry and it wouldn’t take much to lose a barn,” said McEwan. “That’s probably the biggest fear that I’ve got is a fire left unattended or somebody falls asleep as a fire is going, and it spreads and you know, gets into the sawdust and smoulders and the next thing you know, it erupts.”

McEwan said the measures being put in place would be assessed. If further steps are needed, another gate could be locked up.

“We will be working with our security patrol and seeing what we can do there to support them and make their jobs a little bit easier,” added McEwan.

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