BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Setting priorities

Spallumcheen officials have no problem with being big spenders.

Spallumcheen officials have no problem with being big spenders.

They have declared servicing the Swan Lake corridor along Highway 97 as their No. 1 priority for $4.2 million in gas tax revenue that is sitting in the Regional District of North Okanagan’s vault.

“To service that properly with a liquid waste management plan would result in a better utilization of that corridor,” said Mayor Will Hansma last week  of the push for sewer.

However, one thing township officials have neglected to point out is that the corridor is within the boundaries of the BX-Swan Lake electoral area of RDNO.

Knowing that, one may ask why Spallumcheen politicians care about what goes on in a neighbouring jurisdiction.

For an answer, you need to look back to the spring of 2009 when council adopted the southeast sector plan.

The sector includes more than 800 acres above Atlantis Waterslide, north to the aggregate pits near Eagle Rock Road, and bordering Silver Star Provincial Park.

“This means the township can accept applications to do some development in that area,” said Hansma in 2009.

“There seems to be a desire to have small holdings in country residential properties. There are very few of those properties available.”

But the southeast sector can’t evolve without sewer and that’s why the Swan Lake corridor is so critical.

However, there are a few pieces missing to this puzzle.

Beyond building a stand-alone sewer treatment facility, the only way of getting lines into Swan Lake is the City of Vernon, which would have to agree to add capacity to its plant.

But there’s a long-standing policy that any land outside of Vernon wanting sewer must annex into the city. As much as some property owners in the Swan Lake corridor may want sewer, they may be less than enthusiastic about  joining Vernon and the prospect of higher taxes.

The other component of this is that even if sewer does go into the Swan Lake corridor, the lines may not head north into the township. For that to happen, Spallumcheen would have to enter into a service agreement with Vernon, just as the city has with Coldstream.

And given  the deteriorating relationship the city has with its Greater Vernon partners over water and parks and recreation, it may not readily turn handstands to enter into another deal.

Sewer does make sense for the Swan Lake corridor as there are a number of businesses already there, and the area continues to face development pressure because of its proximity to Vernon and the great Highway 97 access.

Obviously any growth there will benefit the economy.

However, Spallumcheen council needs to be up front and admit it’s No. 1 priority isn’t driven by regional co-operation. It has a vested interest in ensuring lands within its mandate can  develop. With an election coming up in November, officials have to be seen as doing something.

What could ultimately dash Spallumcheen’s plans is every other community in the North Okanagan wants a piece of the $4.2 million. There isn’t enough to go around.

Richard Rolke is the senior reporter for The Morning Star