Summer fun on Okanagan Falls trestle bridge to continue - InfoNews

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Summer fun on Okanagan Falls trestle bridge to continue

Regional district directors agreed to allow people to jump from the Okanagan Falls trestle bridge to continue.
July 04, 2019 - 4:25 PM

PENTICTON - Regional directors grappled at length with an issue that seemed straightforward enough but in the end pit directors against each other at today’s South Okanagan-Similkameen Regional District board meeting.

The directors were being asked today, July 4, to support a staff recommendation to make the Okanagan Falls trestle bridge unattractive as a diving platform by removing a fence gate and ladder on the bridge, installing signage warning against jumping off and redesigning the trestle railings to inhibit jumping.

But Okanagan Falls director Ron Obirek was well prepared for a counter discussion and recommendation, armed with emails, history and personal accounts of Okanagan Falls residents who supported the use of the trestle for jumping into the lake.

He told directors there was a 50-year history of that use, noting the present Okanagan Falls fire chief could not recall a single incident from jumping off the bridge in 38 years.

“It’s not a high-risk activity, it’s safe, it’s fun. We are trying to develop tourist activities, and this is highly popular with tourists. I’m asking everyone on the board to support me,” Obirek told fellow directors.

Obirek said members of the Okanagan Falls community were upset at a lack of community consultation after regional district staff locked the gate accessing the jump-off point following a risk analysis done on the trestle last year.

The jumping area was fenced last week, again without consultation. Obirek said the community felt it wasn’t being respected for the experience and history they had with the popular summertime activity.

“It’s an activity that’s been going on for 50 years, we have the knowledge it’s safe. I would be extremely anxious about the risk if we were to go the other way,” Obirek said.

He said the report exaggerated the risk, saying the measures requested by staff would increase the risk, making it more dangerous for people who were going to access the site regardless. Others might be inclined to jump off at other points on the trestle that could be dangerous.

While several directors expressed support for Obirek’s views, others did not, saying the risk was too great.

“We have the same thing on the Similkameen River, and it's exactly the same scenario, people have been jumping off the bridge forever. It's no big deal until one little guy jumps off and gets crippled. Am I going to support this? Not a chance, this is just asking for trouble,” said Princeton rural director Bob Coyne.

Osoyoos director Sue McKortoff said her community had similar issues with the highway bridge crossing Osoyoos Lake.

“There are signs on the bridge, but people still jump. We need to be careful about how we go ahead with this,” she said.

But Penticton director Julius Bloomfield said he supported Obirek’s motion, asking where does it stop.

“If somebody is walking on the trail and falls, do we shut the trail down? People want to have fun. Accidents happen, that’s why we have insurance,” he said.

Cawston director George Bush also supported Obirek, saying he agreed the staff recommendations would make the situation more unsafe.

“Otherwise, the only option is to take (the bridge) down,” he said.

Community services manager Mark Woods and parks and facilities manager Justin Shuttleworth said the matter would have to be put before the province as a potential use, as they are grantors of a license of occupation for the trestle’s use as a trail by the regional district.

That prompted Penticton director Bloomfield to ask why staff didn’t feel they needed to go to the province for permission to shut the activity down.

Penticton Mayor and director John Vassilaki asked why there was a sudden concern over liability issues when the regional district has had a licence for the trestle since 2003, prompting CAO Bill Newell to say staff were responding to the 2017 risk assessment report.

Director Obirek’s motion to allow "recreational activities”  to continue on the trestle passed, with three directors opposed.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad or call 250-488-3065 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.

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