KELOWNA - Transportation and water were prominent in local news in 2015 and transportation over water — in this case, a second bridge over Okanagan Lake — generated lots of interest.
Even though it’s at least 25 years away and may never be built, the province began consultations on a possible second crossing of Okanagan Lake and the entire Highway 97 corridor from Peachland to Vernon.
Early data indicates the traffic congestion plaguing the streets of the Central Okanagan is locally generated and not the tourist traffic everyone likes to blame.
Our addiction to cars in the Central Okanagan means we need to look at alternatives such as cycling, transit and walking, something the Ministry of Transportation was at pains to point out during a series of open houses showcasing the project.
Making it easier to push alternative transportation this year was the completion of the purchase of the former CN Rail corridor, an abandoned rail line stretching from downtown Kelowna to Coldstream, just outside Vernon.
The group purchase of the 48.5 kilometre former railbed by a group of Okanagan communities was touch and go after Lake Country had to go to referendum to get voter approval for the purchase. Then Okanagan Indian Band tried to stop the sale with a failed court injunction, citing its historical claim to the Okanagan Commonage.
CN Rail has begun environmental remediation on the railbed and detailed planning will begin in early 2016, wiith an anticipated opening in 2017.
In the face of a level four drought advisory, Kelowna finally adopted permanent summer water restrictions, putting them in line with the other communities in the Okanagan Valley.
The move was a show of solidarity as much as anything else — staff said ample lake levels meant there was no technical reason to restrict watering — but Kelowna council was eager to adopt it, with domestic water supply being one of its strategic priorities.
Rental housing was also in short supply in the city with the vacancy rate dropping to one per cent in early 2015. This comes despite the efforts of Kelowna council over the years to promote the development of rental housing with tax breaks and development grants.
The vacancy rate has eased some to 1.5 per cent in the fall, as previous efforts to promote rental housing bore fruit. But the majority of the projecs soon to come online are so-called micro-suites — tiny apartments less than 29 square metres.
On a more personal note, people from all over North America took notice of the story of Sam Lescarbeau, a nine-year-old Kelowna boy who quit his hockey team after being repeatedly benched.
His father’s heart-breaking open letter to the other parents and coach of his team, plus an equally tear-inducing photograph of young Sam slumped dejectedly on the bench sparked a lively debate around when is too young to apply professional sports standards.
Equally touching was the amazing detective work of Melonie Dodaro, the Kelowna woman who used her exceptional skills with social media to find the father she had never met.
It took just 72 hours for Dodaro to reconnect with her father Colin, who lives in Thailand, picking up the phone to hear her father’s voice for the first time.
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