First Nations blamed for delays on Tranquille redevelopment in Kamloops | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source
Subscribe

Would you like to subscribe to our newsletter?

Current Conditions Sunny  18.5°C

Kamloops News

First Nations blamed for delays on Tranquille redevelopment in Kamloops

An aerial image of the former Tranquille Sanitorium and surrounding farm land.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Ignition Developments Ltd.

Two Secwepemc bands want the province to take a closer look at the potential redevelopment of a former Kamloops tuberculosis hospital.

The dilapidated Tranquille property, called Pellqweqwile in the Secwepemc language, has "irreplaceable cultural and traditional values," the Stk'emlupsemc te Secwepemc Nation said in an application for an environmental assessment of the site.

Ignition Tranquille Developments Ltd. has been preparing for years to rebuild the site into a agriculturally-focused suburb, recently pointing blame at the province for repeated delays.

What it didn't mention in an April news release was the Secwepemc bands' efforts to have the project assessed. In recent letters to the province, however, the developer said the entire project could be at risk.

"Simply put, if an (environmental assessment) was going to be required, let alone the possibility that it might end up 'killing' our potable water source, or the entire project for other reasons, it should have been put out on the table long ago," company president Dan Fritz wrote in January. "Its eleventh-hour introduction has changed the project's risk profile mightily, forcing a rethink of our plans."

The seemingly endless road to rebuild the site began in the 1980s when the province shut down the Tranquille psychiatric hospital, which was surrounded by its own community and a farm. The current owners took over the property in a court-ordered sale more than 20 years ago.

As the entire property is within Kamloops city limits, early concept plans got approval from city hall in 2012, but they have shifted over time. Once including a golf course, for example, the plans now include farms, vineyards, a marina and between 1,500 and 2,000 homes.

READ MORE: The deep, dark and mysterious history of Tranquille Sanatorium and psychiatric institution

The company has faced repeated denials from the Agricultural Land Commission to remove more land from the province's farmland reserve, with one as recently as November.

Meanwhile, Tk'emlups te Secwepemc and Skeetchestn Indian Band applied to the province for an assessment in August 2023.

The Stk'emlupsemc te Secwepemc Nation (SSN), which exists partially to assert title rights over unceded land in the region, has "repeatedly" expressed its concern with the Tranquille project since at least 2021, according to its application.

Tranquille began its history with settlers in 1860s when it became part of the Cooney and Fortune family ranches, but there is "7,500 years of evidence" that the mouth of Tranquille River has long been a Secwepemc village site, according to the application.

It focuses on Ignition's eventual potable water intake and its plans for "resort-like" community as reasons to have the project assessed for environmental impacts.

It's an assessment process that could add delays to the long-anticipated project, but it's also an effective way to achieve First Nations consultation on a project.

Ignition responded first to dismiss the First Nations' arguments that the development would be a resort community. If true, it would require an environmental assessment under BC legislation. However, the developer said the official community plan mentions "resort-like amenities" for people living there, while conceding there could be a small hotel included in the neighbourhood.

The developer also responded with criticism of the First Nations and their attempts to stall the project over the years. In his January letter to the province, Fritz said SSN has been contemplating the application since December 2020. He said SSN has "been able to paralyze and manipulate" government decisions on the site "for years."

"Simply put, on our file, if an (environmental assessment) is required, given the government’s track record of bending to First Nations desires, even on the very flimsiest of pretext, makes it impossible to predict delays and expense – and frankly even an outright stoppage of the project," Fritz's letter read.

READ MORE: PADOVA CITY: Political, economic scandal once loomed over Kamloops Tranquille farm

He went on to detail years of failed attempts to negotiate with SSN, beginning with letters from the company to the chief and council at each band in 2019. They received no response.

"Ultimately it took 16 requests for meetings and 19 follow up requests over a 22 month time span to successfully arrange for a first meeting," Fritz said in an October 2023 letter to the province.

He said Ignition has kept a "comprehensive chronological log of communications" between Ignition and the First Nations, which includes multiple failed attempts to meet with leadership.

The first meeting was in September 2020, where SSN made a "demand" for a 24-month cultural heritage assessment that Fritz said was vastly overvalued at $700,000.

"Repeatedly (Ignition) was met with the demand for $700,000 ... with no willingness by SSN to discuss the project," his letter read.

READ MORE: Spooky Tranquille Sanatorium? Staff loved it there

Fritz said the "normal amount" for the work would be from $50,000 to $70,000 and should only last "a few months."

Ignition also rejected a draft memorandum of understanding brought forth by SSN. Six months later, the company drafted a "more reasonable" version for SSN. That was rejected and by April 2021, SSN said it would no longer be meeting with them.

In October 2021 and January 2022, Ignition was contacted by two archaeologists. Both said they were threatened by Skeetchestn that they'd be cut off from future First Nations contracts if they worked with Ignition, according to Fritz.

Years earlier, however, there were preliminary archaeological studies in the area. Crews comprised of employees from both Secwepemc bands found six sites on the property, split evenly between future residential and agricultural areas.

In depth studies of those sites, however, aren't planned until development starts.

The Ministry of Environment has not decided whether the project should undergo an environmental assessment. It had not planned to, but the prospect is being considered because of the SSN application.

Fritz, however, suggested it was just one body SSN has gone to in "opposition" to the Tranquille project.

The province asked Ignition for a complete list of permits, provincial and municipal, it will need to build out the site, which Fritz did not do.

"In the matter of disclosing this information it is very important to note that at one of our meetings with SSN, in response to their request, I verbally shared a partial list of the key government approvals required, only to learn subsequently SSN wrote to each stating their opposition to the project," his letter read.

"Given this, we are sure that if we expand this list the main result will be for history to repeat itself."

Ignition's April news release, however, made no mention of First Nations involvement or environmental assessments. Instead, it said the province has "systematically stymied" the project, which the company suggests could contribute $1.1 billion to BC's economy during its 14- to 20-year build.

iNFOnews.ca sent several questions regarding the ancestral value of the former Secwepemc village site to Tk'emlups Kukpi7 (chief) Rosanne Casimir, Skeetchestn Kukpi7 Darrell Draney and to SSN. We also sent Fritz' specific claims about SSN's attempts to stall or delay the Tranquille project for a response.

Those questions were sent in writing on Tuesday May 21. Reached by phone on Thursday, Draney said he and Casimir were aware of the questions and had discussed the matter, but he believed a prepared response had already been sent.

On Friday morning, SSN operations director Jordan MacIsaac said SSN has "no comment at this time."


To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

We welcome your comments and opinions on our stories but play nice. We won't censor or delete comments unless they contain off-topic statements or links, unnecessary vulgarity, false facts, spam or obviously fake profiles. If you have any concerns about what you see in comments, email the editor in the link above. SUBSCRIBE to our awesome newsletter here.

News from © iNFOnews, 2024
iNFOnews

  • Popular kelowna News
View Site in: Desktop | Mobile