By Lyonel Doherty
A water councillor from Oliver says the Town needs to get aggressive to secure funds from the federal government to help fix the irrigation siphon at Gallagher Lake.
On Monday, Rick Machial expressed a deep concern about the fact the Town still hasn’t received any funding commitment from Ottawa.
“The only way you’re going to get money from the government is to make it political,” Machial said. “If you try to use (Town) staff back and forth, it’s not going to happen.”
The councillor responded to a verbal report from Mayor Ron Hovanes who said the siphon project does not qualify for infrastructure funding from the federal government. However, the government has forwarded the Town’s request to the agriculture ministry, the mayor added.
Town council previously approved a $10.4 million siphon repair option that will see a section of its canal rerouted south along Highway 97 around Gallagher Lake. This was decided after the canal was damaged by a rockslide in 2016. The damage was subsequently repaired but the Town desires a permanent fix via the rerouting option.
Since then, council has received a funding commitment of $5 million from the provincial government, but nothing yet from Ottawa, which worries Machial.
“I think we have to get aggressive really quickly . . . six months ago they (the government) said they were working on it. Now they’re saying the funding doesn’t fit. This has to happen, like, right now.”
Hovanes said more than 500 local businesses depend on the irrigation canal, including the Osoyoos Indian Band.
“It goes way beyond agriculture, it affects the entire economy of the South Okanagan,” he said.
According to the mayor, the agriculture ministry supports the canal project, but no money is forthcoming yet.
“The (federal) government is handing out billions of dollars and we are only asking for a small piece of it.”
Hovanes suspects, at the end of the day, that local taxpayers will have to foot part of the repair bill.
Chief Financial Officer Devon Wannop said the Town would have to borrow the money to pay its share.