SPECIAL REPORT

Skaha wetlands shows Sickle Point in Kaleden looking from the north from the KVR trail. This photo by naturist Bob Handfield was taken in 2005, just prior to a developer bulldozing part of the area.

Kaleden residents are willing to put their money where the collective mouths are as they work towards trying to turn a gorgeous piece of Skaha Lake into a nature conservatory.

The piece of real estate in question is called Sickle Point, a pristine 4.8-acre slice of vacant beachfront on the south end of Skaha Lake.

Various owners have been discussing developing Sickle Point as a small subdivision dating back 30 years. The property is currently listed for sale on a local real estate site for just over $3.1 million.

A large contingent of neighbours has formed ad hoc committee supported by the Kaleden Community Association and members of that group have committed $80,000 in pledges in just over two weeks.

The committee has also arranged upcoming meetings with numerous organizations to try and form a partnership to purchase the land and turn it into a nature conservancy, which would protect it from any future development, said Randy Cranston, chair of the ad hoc committee and Kaleden Community Association.

The committee has outlined its concerns and plans relating to Sickle Point in a lengthy letter sent late last week to various provincial government departments, including Premier John Horgan, said Cranston.

Supporters have also drafted a “vision statement” detailing their goals and objectives to turn Sickle Point into a nature and wildlife sanctuary, hopefully in conjunction with an established nature trust organization, said Cranston.

“One of the first questions any trust organization is going to ask us is who is going to own Sickle Point,” he said in an interview. “My response to that is that is still a work in progress. It may be a trust organization, it may be decided in ongoing negotiations with the Regional District (Okanagan-Similkameen.)

“The dream we have, the vision is to the greatest extent possible is just let it be … and that means keeping this land as is in a nature reserve.”

With a huge number of birds, animals and rare species gathered at and near the site, Sickle Point would make an ideal nature conservation area, said Cranston.

Developing a small housing project would destroy the natural beauty of the area and doesn’t make sense as there is no road access available and would upset the thousands of people who walk or cycle along the nearby Kettle Valley Railway trail every day, he said.

“The goal is to maintain and restore Sickle Point as an enduring nature community supporting wildlife and aquatic species,” he said. “We remain very much against any kind of development.”

The property is currently zoned to build only one home, but there have been amendments by various owners to develop a five-lot subdivision in the past.

“That would simply wreak havoc … with multiple vehicles, destroying parts of the KVR trail,” he said.

It is frustrating that proponents of the development don’t have to talk to the RDOS or neighbours, but can deal directly with the provincial government for approval, he said.

“There has been no community engagement here at all,” he said. “That’s why a petition was started and now has hundreds of names on it against any development of this area.”

Sickle Point remains the last untouched area of Skaha Lake, he said.

“This is the last area on Skaha Lake for fish, wildlife, migratory birds and too many other species to mention,” he said.

Supporters are willing to work with any nature-based conservancy organization, the provincial government and RDOS to ensure the proposed development is rejected and the goal of establishing a nature park is realized, he said.

“Either or, any of the above,” he said.

The fact more that $80,000 has been pledged in two weeks shows how passionate neighbours are about preserving Sickle Point, he said.

“The goal of the pledges is when we meet with the trust organizations, they can clearly see the people in this community clearly see this as very important,” he said. “This is right adjacent to the KVR Trail, where thousands of people walk and bike every year from all over the place.”

It is time to end any discussion of allowing development at Sickle Point, said Cranston.

“In my opinion, this is probably the last chance,” he said. “This has gone on for years and years and years. We needed people to step up and they have.”

Former MP, federal Department of Fisheries minister and former RDOS board member Tom Siddon has never supported development at Sickle Point and said he’s thrilled so many neighbours are working together to try and turn the area into a nature reserve.

The property has been listed in a court-ordered sale at just over $3 million, but the provincial assessment office has assessed it at just over $1.2 million, which means any purchase to turn it into a nature park is much more affordable than many might think, said Siddon, who represented Kaleden residents on the RDOS board from 2011-2018. (Siddon recused himself from any RDOS matters dealing with Sickle Point.)

Opposition to development at Sickle Point dates back more than 25 years, Siddon confirmed.

Allowing one or five homes in an area with no road access or services doesn’t make a lot of sense now or ever in his mind, the retired politican said.

“We’re not opponents to development, but more proponents of saving Sickle Point because it is one of the last remaining environmental wetlands along the shoreline of Skaha Lake,” Siddon said. “There are several species of migratory birds that come from as far as the Yukon and southern United States and Mexico every year to settle in this area. There are also many four-legged critters living there.”

The fact Sickle Point has been rejected for development on numerous occasions over the past three decades is encouraging, but the time has come to purchase the land and turn it into a nature park and protect it forever, said Siddon.

“With the support of the provincial government, we would hope to be able to reserve it as a wildlife sanctuary and nature park, not an extension of the parks in the area,” he said. “The community is largely not supportive of any kind of development down there and never has been. There is strong support to protect it in perpetuity.”

Residents of the Okanagan are blessed to call this area home, but “we don’t have to use up every square foot of waterfront to build more big houses when Kaleden taxpayers are generally not in support of this.”

Subrina Monteith, the current RDOS director representing Kaleden, said she is strongly supportive of actions to purchase Sickle Point and turn it into a nature park.

Motorized vehicles are not allowed on the KVR Trail. She said it makes little sense to damage a trail that’s utilized by tens of thousands of locals and visitors each year for the sake of building five new houses.

“This is a piece of Kaleden that should have been purchased many years ago when they first had the chance, but that didn’t happen unfortunately,” she said. “Now we’re back to the same fight again over a piece of land that should never have been sold in the first place, but turned over to the Regional District.

“Now somebody owns it and we’re stuck in a position of trying to right the wrongs. The people I have spoken to want to protect this property and the lake. There are so few shoreline properties on Skaha Lake that are not developed. This is a perfect piece of shoreline and it’s an opportunity for the entire community to come together to protect it. There is nothing like it left on Skaha Lake. To see it gone to develop one or five homes .. is heartbreaking. It should be left as natural land.”

Keith Lacey is a freelance writer based in Penticton.

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