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OKANAGAN FALLS -- Vintners fear a proposed asphalt plant in a narrow Okanagan Valley will taint the wine produced by nearly a dozen small award-winning vineyards.

Larry Gerelus, owner and operator of Stag's Hollow in Okanagan Falls, said he fears the 60 hectares of grapes growing within two kilometres of the plant will stink if asphalt is in the air and settles on the leaves and fruit.

"There's a belief that the grapes will absorb the smell in the air," Gerelus said. "It will take one bad vintage of stinky wine because of that plant to destroy what we've done here.

"We all need asphalt, but you couldn't put it in a worse place. It'll devastate the economy here [just] for one or two jobs."

The plant, which has already been set up on part of a 72-hectare property, would be operated by Penticton-based Peter Bros. Construction.

Gerelus said its capacity would be more than 135 tonnes per hour, enough to fill a truck every five minutes.

Before it can operate, the asphalt plant must get approval from the provincial Agricultural Land Commission because the property is in the Agricultural Land Reserve, said Bill Schwarz, area director for the Okanagan-Similkameen Regional District.

Still, said Schwarz, part of the land is already zoned for heavy industrial use and it is just blocks from a Weyerhaeuser mill.

The possibility of an asphalt plant on the land, which also borders a federal big-horn sheep reserve and a proposed national park, has upset many in the area. A forum organized by Schwarz had to be cancelled Tuesday when more than 400 people tried to pack into a 200-capacity building.

"I don't think OK Falls has ever had a gathering of 400 people," said Schwarz. "Some people were screaming, 'We don't want that in our back yard.' "

Another public meeting will be scheduled within 10 days, he said.

Matt Mavety of Blue Mountain Vineyards, which borders the asphalt- plant property, said his main concern is emissions.

"We're trying to move to an organic vineyard and the last thing we need is [an asphalt] plant next door," Mavety said.

Peter Bros. Construction did not return calls. In its application, it said scrubbers would be installed to eliminate smell and keep emissions low.

Colour Photo: (Matt) Mavety; Colour Photo: Sterling / Larry Gerelus of Stag's Hollow in Okanagan Falls prunes his grape vines, which he worries could produce 'stinky wine' if asphalt is in the air.

(Copyright The Province 2003)

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