With half the province seemingly on fire, the Big Flood dominating local headlines just a few weeks ago seems a distant memory.
But this month’s smoke-filled skies can’t obscure what last month’s flood has revealed and that is the widespread abuse of public land by lakeshore property owners in Kelowna and all around Okanagan Lake.
This is a problem that has been developing for many years, but the bigger problem now may be the lack of enforcement of existing provincial regulations and a decided lack of political will to take on the wealthy property owners who build illegal docks and landscape public land.
This is not an abstract concept. Despite impressions many have of a big, relatively untouched body of water, the most recent foreshore mapping data from 2017 shows 59 per cent of Okanagan Lake’s 290 kilometres of shoreline has already been developed.
Over the preceding seven years 4.1 km of shoreline was permanently altered through construction of 165 new retaining walls, 164 new docks and nine new marinas.
However Al Janusas says the recent flood, while a hardship for some, represents a chance to “reboot” Kelowna’s waterfront and right some of the historical wrongs imposed upon it.
Janusas’ group PLANK (Pandosy Lakeshore Active Neighbourhoods Kelowna) hope the Walk the Beach protest on August 27 will begin that process.
To be certain, Janusas is not calling it a protest march (my words) and organizers have made it painstakingly clear no actual trespassing of offending properties will be attempted or officially tolerated.
Instead, plans are to walk the beach where possible and go back out onto the street where it’s not.
“We want to draw attention to the fact that between the Bennett Bridge and Mission Creek, it is impossible for members of the public to walk the shore for big sections of that,” he says.
He’s hoping for 100 beach walkers and is keenly aware of the possibility of confrontation with lakefront property owners — city hall has already received calls from some declaring their intention to block any attempt to cross what they view as their land.
“We are doing to do our very best not to have confrontation and we certainly do not condone violence,” he says. “It wouldn’t surprise me if we had some shouting and yelling. We haven’t requested police show up but I would not be surprised if they did, given the publicity the event has received.”
Just don’t call it civil disobedience.
“It’s the people who are trying to prevent us from walking the beach who are disobedient,” Janusas says, his tone hardening just a little. “The law is on our side here. We don’t want to trespass but if the city and the province are unwilling to spend the money indicating where the boundary is, then it could happen.”
Long-time locals could be forgiven a jaundiced view of this most recent attempt to take back the beach. Every few years, someone makes some noise about foreshore encroachment before calls to ‘do something about it’ die out. (Indeed, most rookie reporters in town, me included, will take a run at the story at some point.)
But this time around, the issue may have some legs, with Janusas hinting at possible legal action and showing a determination to keep it at the forefront for Kelowna voters.
“We would prefer to do this outside of court in a mutually beneficial way,” says the retired firefighter. “We will definitely be trying to make this a (municipal) election issue.”
For his part, Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran says the move to regain foreshore access is something council is keeping an eye on, pointing to their support through a letter he wrote to the province asking for stepped up enforcement.
While aware of the possibility for confrontation during the walk, Basran is quick to point out the limitations of council’s power in provincial regulatory matters.
“Although it is not our jurisdiction, we do encourage people with concerns to contact their local MLAs,” the mayor said.
While his words certainly sound supportive, Janusas says he sensed a “distinct lack of appetite” to deal with the issue during a recent meeting with Basran.
He’s hoping at least some of the offending property owners will have a change of heart when they see the pressure will not let up.
“These people have got it entrenched in their heads that this is their private beach,” he speculates. “They have to get used to the idea that this is wrong. If they can’t get used to that idea, they should sell and move on.”
Walk the Beach is scheduled for 1 p.m. August 27, beginning at Hot Sands Beach in Kelowna’s City Park. I will be there. Will you?
— John McDonald is a long-time reporter, editor and photographer from the Central Okanagan with a strong curiosity about local affairs. You can reach him at email@example.com.