Letter to city shows Penticton Indian Band deeply concerned about Skaha Park development

JOE FRIES | Penticton Herald

As public opposition built this summer against the city’s decision to lease a portion of Skaha Lake Park for a waterslide development, the Penticton Indian Band complained privately about being left out of the loop.

“After carefully considering all of the information PIB has acquired, we write to inform you that a respectful government to government process has not been followed and therefore we do not approve, consent or in any manner agree to the proposed expanded development,” Chief Jonathan Kruger said in an Aug. 28 letter to city officials.

The letter, obtained by The Herald through a freedom of information request, goes on to explain the need for archeological and environmental impact assessments in consultation with the PIB before any projects in Skaha Park go ahead.

City council cited the PIB’s concerns when it voted Sept. 28 to give developer Trio Marine Group a one-year extension to complete those studies before finalizing its plans for the waterslides and a separate marina expansion.

Both projects have the potential to impact the PIB’s title and rights to the land, and pose cultural and environmental concerns, said Kruger.

“The development site is located within a region that has been identified as having very high PIB archeological potential. This means that any ground disturbance (including pile driving in the lake if required) has a high likelihood to impact PIB cultural heritage resources,” he wrote.

And large marina projects, the chief continued, can “have negative environmental consequences,” so the potential impact on water quality and fish needs to be studied.

“As you are aware, the Penticton Indian Band and Syilx Nation have invested an enormous amount of time, effort and finances to reintroduce Okanagan sockeye into Skaha Lake,” Kruger noted.

The letter goes on to claim a 2004 protocol agreement between the city and band intended to establish a working relationship was ignored when council “voted to proceed with the marina expansion and Skaha Park redevelopment without following due process and directly engaging PIB.”

A second letter, dated Sept. 25, recaps a meeting a week earlier during which the two sides apparently resolved their differences and committed to work together on the assessments.

 “We must point out that the Penticton Indian Band is not opposed to economic development, but as acknowledged, these developments must be carefully considered to ensure that they do not have a substantive impact on cultural heritage or the environment,” Kruger wrote.

“Once further information is acquired regarding the proposed developments, the Penticton Indian band and City of Penticton will be in a better position to determine if modifications to the original plans need to be considered. Once these determinations have been made we can then proceed to further discuss the economic components of these developments.”

In an interview, Kruger declined to elaborate on the reference to “economic components,” but said he’s pleased the band and city are now working together through the assessment processes.

“We’re putting the protocol to work, and I think council is respectfully working with us,” he said.

Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said in an interview the city was in touch with the band early regarding the planned first phase of development – the expanded marina and new restaurant – originally set to open in 2016, and planned to consult on the second phase – the water park – as the anticipated 2017 groundbreaking drew nearer.

“I think the (Aug. 28) letter was more about ensuring as the process unfolds that they’re part of the mix and any environmental or archeological concerns get addressed,” said Jakubeit.

He noted those concerns were expected to be addressed anyway as Trio sought necessary approvals from the federal and provincial governments.

Trio now has until Oct. 1, 2016, to complete negotiations with the B.C. government on a tenure agreement for the marina, finish the environmental and archeological assessments and present the city with a financial plan for its projects.

It has not announced updated timelines since the one-year extension was granted.