Listening visit

PIB Coun. Suzanne Johnson (right) hears concerns raised by Kaleden resident Doreen Olson, also a Save Sickle Point Committee member, during a visit in November.

A purchaser offer for the Sickle Point property on Skaha Lake is now set to be presented to a judge Dec. 3, but the Penticton Indian Band has warned it will “reject” any attempts to build on the site.

The 4.8-acre property, which had been the decades-long focus of controversial plans for residential development by former owner Mel Reeves, is being sold out of foreclosure.

Conditions attached to the sale to an undisclosed buyer were dropped Thursday, meaning the purchase just requires a judge’s approval.

But it’s hardly a done deal.

According to the PIB, it holds the underlying title and rights to the site on behalf of the Syilx people, who want the area left in a natural state as wetlands.

“We will vehemently defend our title and rights and reject any proposed developments at this site — that’s an important message for any developer wanting to purchase this land to understand,” Coun. Suzanne Johnson said in a press release Thursday.

James Pepper, the band’s director of natural resources, said in an interview the PIB has been “reviewing and preventing development on the site for a number of years now,” and has no plans to stop.

He said the band is working behind the scene with its own contacts as well as the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen and citizen-led Save Sickle Point Committee to see what can be done.

“Protection and preservation is the key goal,” said Pepper. “What exactly that looks like hasn’t been explicitly defined.”

In a letter to Premier John Horgan that was released publicly this week, the committee suggests the B.C. government could invoke a section of the Environment and Land Use Act to block any development until environmental concerns are addressed. The committee also suggests the RDOS could expropriate the land in the public interest.

However, “The local government would, of course, have to have the money to expropriate, which we do not have at present,” RDOS chief administrative officer Bill Newell noted in an email Thursday.

The RDOS board last week set in motion an alternate approval process to gain public assent for borrowing up to $3.5 million to purchase Sickle Point, but the result won’t be known until Feb. 8.

If the borrowing is approved, said Newell, “we’ll discuss options.”

The sale of the site is being handled by Kelowna-based HM Commercial Group, which didn’t respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The company’s marketing material describes Sickle Point, which is listed at $2.95 million, as “trophy real estate.”

“The quantity and quality of the lake frontage is extraordinary for residential/recreational parcels in the B.C. Interior, and especially rare for parcels located within the South Okanagan region,” the material states.

Reeves worked for decades to build a five-lot subdivision on Sickle Point, but faced stiff opposition from neighbours and government officials due to its unique location and environmental values.

But millennia before Reeves even entered the picture, Indigenous people made frequent use of Sickle Point.

“It’s a flat area, it’s a wetland and there are marshes there,” explained Pepper.

“It was used in the past to gather specific medicinal plants and edible plants. We know that salmon and other fish holed up in the area, so there would have been camps and drying stations.”