Penticton and Wine Country Chamber wants divisions ‘healed’

The author of an inflammatory email sent to a waterslide protester says he wishes he had thought it over before hitting send.

“I definitely regret what I said in it because it wasn’t fair,” said Chris Marte, a local realtor and a director with the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce.

Marte was responding to a letter sent to all the chamber directors from a citizen voicing his concerns about the chamber’s support for Trio Marine Group’s project to build a waterslide in Skaha Lake Park, along with a restaurant and upgrades to the existing marina.

In the letter, Marte commented on his own status as a young father “in what feels to be a town of suppressive residents against change,” and suggested opponents of the project “don’t really know the wants and needs of Penticton.”

Chamber president Jason Cox said Marte’s email didn’t represent the opinion of the chamber.

“That was one director speaking from his own opinion and out of turn actually,” said Cox. “I addressed it with him and reminded the board that only the president and the executive director speak on behalf of the organization, even when you are approached individually.”

“I understand the desire to respond back from your own individual point of view, but this is the kind of fallout that can come from that.”

Marte has since sent an apology to Larry French, the author of the original email. He said he should have considered French’s position before responding in the heat of the moment.

“It was one of those ones where you should have thought about why they were saying it. They care. That is what it ultimately comes down to, is everybody cares so strongly about it,” said Marte. “Everybody has their own opinions on it, and they are entitled to them. They should voice it if they feel strongly. That  is what he was doing when he wrote that email.”

Cox spoke strongly in support of the project during the question period of the Aug. 17 council meeting, reaffirming the chamber’s support for council’s decision.

“The deal is signed, the project is proceeding,” Cox said. “Even though I don’t want to fuel the conversation further, I didn’t want council to walk away from that meeting feeling like they had been shamed, and the whole community is against them.”

Cox said the Save Skaha Park supporters may misunderstand the chamber’s position.

“No one is suggesting this is going to be the solution to all of the economic or tourism needs of the community,” he said. “We  are just saying it is one more piece of inventory in the community that will make this a more livable city and a more attractive place to visit.”

Cox also said the chamber would like to see the divisions in the community healed.

“That is something the Chamber believes is a priority,” said Cox, adding that he had met with two potential investors wanting to do projects in Penticton, but were concerned they would meet opposition.

“We’ve had differences of opinions about developments, including a prison that didn’t raise this kind of backlash,” said Cox.

For their part, the Save Skaha Park group says they are not giving up the fight. With more than 3,400 signatures on their petition, the group has moved on to considering legal options, and have set up a community organization account with Valley First Credit Union to collect funds.

“What we are doing is asking for funds from the community because we have had a tremendous amount of support and interest. The fund is being set aside to seek a legal opinion to see if there is an issue we can take forward,” said Lisa Martin, one of the organizers.

The Valley First account is under the name Save Skaha Park, account # 2765832.

“Our mantra is ‘it’s not over.’ We are getting increasing support,” said Martin, adding that they are still collecting signatures in Skaha Park, daily from 5 to 8 p.m. at the splash pad area.