The river continues to flow, the seasons change but at this point there’s little movement by the province to help in detracting individuals from camping along the Similkameen River near the village.
Village councillors were “disappointed” by the lack of response by the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations Monday night at a regularly scheduled meeting.
“We worked very hard to get a meeting with the Ministry at UBCM (Union of British Columbia Municipalities conference) and it seems by this letter we’ve been kicked back to the start again,” councillor Jeremy Evans said during discussion about the letter.
Discussions have been ongoing with the ministry for more than a year. The goal from the village’s perspective is to make riverbed lands, often used by farm workers as makeshift accommodations while working in the area, off limits for overnight camping.
At this point overnight camping is allowed but Mayor Manfred Bauer has stated several times that he thinks the riverbed is an ecologically sensitive area that could fall under protection of the province, which could allow the village and RCMP the ability to enforce regulations.
Each year refuse including human waste is left at the riverbed.
Despite effort by the village and RDOS including having a dumpster nearby, campers leave garbage behind including old sleeping bags, tents, clothing, food wrappers and more. This year was no different.
“We can’t tolerate environmental pollution,” Bauer said during the meeting.
The letter written on behalf of Minister Steve Thomas mentioned that compliance officers serving the South Okanagan attended some Crown lands where people were known to be camping longterm this summer. But in each case officers decided not to relocate the individuals.
“Displacing individuals in this manner does not address the underlying problems associated with the unauthorized camping,” the letter stated.
“While we acknowledge the safety, sanitation and environmental considerations raised by Keremeos, we believe that a long-term solution cannot be reached through enforcement activity alone and will likely require the contribution of other agencies.”
The letter closed with a recommendation to setup a meeting with Ministry staff.
Councillor Arlene Arlow agreed with the need to bring in more agencies to stop the camping.
“It would seem to be a more complex issue,” she said.
Council agreed to direct staff to request a meeting with the ministry’s staff.
Prior to the meeting Mayor Bauer told the Review he thought strides in the right direction were made at a local level this year.
At the beginning of the season the majority of council agreed to place about $12,000 worth of large rocks around accessible area’s to the village’s trail that leads to the riverbed. The idea was to hinder access to the area.
Council also agreed to increase they bylaw officer’s budget by about $4,000. Several vehicles were towed during the summer for ongoing parking violations.
“As far as I know there was a lot less complaints, less partying going on close to residential areas,” he said. “Was it a complete success? No. But hopefully next year it’ll get even better and the next year even better. We’re not going to fix a 50-year-old problem in one year.”