August 27, 2013 - 4:38 PM
LAKE COUNTRY – There's no question the new stretch of Highway 97 is an impressive feat of engineering, but it's having some deadly consequences for local businesses – and nocturnal animal life.
Only ten days have passed since its official opening on August 17 and business owners on the former highway route, now Pelmewash Parkway, are devastated.
Farmer Alan Gatzke who owns and operates Gatzke Orchards says 50 per cent of his business evaporated in the first week.
“We were down $4,000 in sales last weekend... We've never been hit this hard before,” Gatzke says.
The problem: there's no signage marking the Oyama turnoff for visitors travelling down the highway.
Because Oyama is not mentioned at its actual exit, people are unable to find it, Gatzke says. Either they miss the turnoff completely or end up making a 20 km turn around back to the farm. And they're not too happy about it.
"They're pissed off," Gatzke says of recent customers to his fruit stands.
Gatzke farms is also home to the Lake Country Visitors Centre, which is now seeing only 10 per cent of its usual visits. As a result, a new location may be required for their visitor's centre next year. Councillors are just as confused by the Ministry of Transportation's reluctance to fix the signage. Oyama Ward Coun. Owen Dickie says transport officials claim there can be no more than two roads indicated per sign.
“There's some interesting contradictions here," Dickie says. "Someone is spending too much time in their office and not enough in the real world."
Aside from the blue service and attraction signs installed last Friday, ministry officials have been largely unresponsive to complaints. While the blue signage indicates farm tours and gas stations in the area, they still neglect to mention the keyword: Oyama. After all, it's one of the oldest communities in Lake Country.
With the fruit season at its peak and the long weekend around the corner, Gatzke took matters into his own hands. A large sandwich board that reads "visit Oyama via Parkway" now stands three kilometers north of the intersection that leads to Oyama, giving motorists fair notice.
"Out of desperation to salvage what I could, I put up the sign," Gatzke says.
Other business owners are following his lead. Edith Bauman says she's rented two portable signs to advertise her Owl's Nest Resort and Marina in each direction of the highway.
“Otherwise nobody would find us,” Bauman says, including some of the return guests.
“In the last three days we haven't had one single check-in off the road,” she says, a significant drop from their daily average of eight to ten drive by bookings. Some of those that do arrive end up in Winfield before looping back to the Oyama turnoff.
Motorists aren't the only ones confused by the highway.
Since its opening some road users are noticing an unusual amount of dead deer at the side of the road.
The ministry is in the process of installing a wildlife exclusion fence but it's been an unfortunate transition for species of mule and white-tailed deer that forage the hillside's timber forests.
Oceola Fish and Game Club president Jared Wilkison has caught wind of some roadside deer collisions. Despite the presence of construction work over the past couple years, he says it's likely the recent twenty-four-seven traffic is catching the deer off guard.
“Deer move at night when the temperature is cooler and to avoid predators,” he says. “My guess is collisions are taking place in the nighttime when vehicles can't see them.”
It's to be expected with any development, he says, but it's a reminder of the environmental cost of infrastructure projects. When a new highway opened between Peachland and Summerland, “it was virtually a slaughter,” he says, adding once the fencing was installed the rate of collisions plummeted.
It will take time for the deer to adopt new foraging habits - and for local and visiting motorists to find their way to Oyama.
“In the end the parkway is going to be beautiful,” Gatzke says.
But right now, "nobody knows what the hell Pelmewash Parkway is."
To contact the reporter for this story, email Julie Whittet at email@example.com or call (250)718-0428.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013