November 6, 2017 10:07 pm

South Okanagan national park opponents stand pat in wake of renewed talks

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A debate that’s been raging for years in the south Okanagan is heating up once again.

In late October, B.C.’s NDP government joined with the federal Liberal government and local First Nations to restart the process to establish a national park reserve in the south Okanagan-Similkameen region.

The announcement was cheered by environmentalists and some local residents. But the community remains divided on the decades-old issue.

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Orchardist Greg Norton speaks for a coalition of opponents who have been fighting the national park proposal for years.

“We’re willing to go to the table and talk about anything as long as we get the respect we deserve as stakeholders, the people who have preserved this area and worked in this area for all of these years,” he told Global News on Monday.

Park boundary details are slim, leaving many opponents on edge.

“That’s the key issue here, where is it going to be, how big is it going to be,” he said. “Rumours are flying, the previous provincial government did produce a map, and we were starting to have those discussions, we’re starting over again.”

Okanagan Falls cattle rancher Dave Casorso said he wants assurances that grazing rights will be protected.

“Our local stockyards which is about six kilometres from where we are standing right now,” he said on Monday.

“Last year it did $5 million worth of business, it’s pretty much all local, if we were to lose any of those cattle because of a national park we would probably lose that whole marketing arm that we have.”

A helicopter training school based in Penticton also opposes a national park out of fear access to the land used for training purposes will be restricted.

“We’re looking for unrestricted access, basically, to these lands to be able to continue what we do,” said HNZ Topflight general manager Dave Schwartzenberger.

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said at the Oct. 27 press conference in Osoyoos that Ottawa will fully consult with all stakeholders before park boundaries are finalized.

“We understand that people have concerns and are interested in how they will fit into this and I think the commitment we’re making is we’re going to listen to everyone,” she said.

No timeline was given but a commitment was made to conclude negotiations within two years.

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