'Why trash a beautiful piece of nature' — everyone is not happy with the proposed changes to the Balfour Ferry Terminal
Back in 1970, about the same time rumours began circulating that the provincial government was considering changing the location of the Kootenay Lake ferry terminal in Balfour, Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell penned the hit single, Big Yellow Taxi.
A verse in the song made referenced to paving paradise in favour of a parking lot.
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
That’s the concern of many of the 300 people who attended the Public Open House on the future of the Balfour Ferry Terminal Wednesday at Redfish Elementary School.
“You don’t want to pave paradise and put up a parking lot,” Mick Collier, a resident of 41 years at Queens Bay told The Nelson Daily during the Open House.
“Joni Mitchell said it best in her song. There’s already an infrastructure in place at Balfour.
“Why trash a beautiful piece of nature . . . one of the most pristine places in all of BC.”
The Balfour Terminal is home based for the MV Osprey and MV Balfour ferries that links travelers from Balfour on the west side of Kootenay Lake to Kootenay Bay on the East Shore aboard the longest free ferry ride — 35 minutes crossing time — in the world.
Kirk Handrahan, executive director of the Marine Branch of Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, said the ministry faces many challenges at its existing site in Balfour.
Problems include water near the mouth of the narrow West Arm of Kootenay Lake is becoming increasingly shallow, leading to pitting of the hull on the MV Osprey.
The increase in pleasure boat traffic, particularly during summer, makes navigating the narrow channel a concern for captains.
At times during peak summer season, or when the Kootenay Pass is closed during the winter due to avalanche conditions, the overflow of waiting vehicles can create traffic safety concerns onto Highway 31 and Highway 3A.
Traffic volumes can also slow the unloading of vehicles, resulting in delays to the ferry schedule.
There is also a need to replace the MV Balfour, which has been in operation since 1947 — a cost pegged at approximately $30 Million.
Handrahan estimated the cost of dredging the Arm, replacing the MV Balfour and improvements to the existing terminal at $35-$40 Million.
“That’s spending an awful lot of money,” Handrahan said. “So we needed to look at what options we have.”
That option, according to critics, appears to be Queens Bay North, which the cost is being tabbed between $25-$30 Million.
Of note, the crossing time to Kootenay Bay from the Queens Bay North location would be reduced to 17 minutes.
“We think (Queens Bay North) is cheaper, capital cost wise,” Handrahan said.
“There’s debate on that. Some people say we didn’t count this or count that, fair enough. Even if I call capital costs a wash, clearly operating (Queens Bay North) would be cheaper.”
“We’d have one vessel to maintain,” he added. “One vessel to crew. (And) fuel and different ongoing costs we’d have to pay would go down.”
But at what cost asks former world champion curler Linda Moore, whose family has been living in Queens Bay for years.
“Certainly a concern is about the environmental aspect of (Queens) Bay,” Moore explained.
“Queens Bay is a unique bay,” she added. “We’ve lived there a long, long time and know the unique aspects of the bay. There’s nowhere else really on the lake that has a recreational setting of Queens Bay people can enjoy.”
Rumours of a site change that have been circulating for decades picked up steam the last few years.
However, residents were shocked with the sudden announcement by the Ministry of Wednesday’s Open House to discuss the proposed changes.
“The fact they’ve given a very short timeline for anyone to give some feedback is another concern,” said Moore, adding the current proposal appears to lean very heavily to one side rather than presenting all of the necessary information needed to make a balanced decision.
“(Ministry) has had 20 years to study possible sites for terminals around the lake and then they come up suddenly with what looks like the final decision and we only have a few days to respond.”
Handrahan said one thing is certain the Ministry must do something.
He said status quo in terms of doing nothing is not an option and a decision must be made.
However, before any big money is tossed at the project, all options much be explored.
“We’re really going to listen to the community,” Handrahan said. “I’m very happy with the turnout we have here. It’s important. How am I going to weigh it, it depends what we hear.”
“We’re hearing some people who like the idea,” Handrahan added.
“They may be commuters and the shorter crossing benefits them, and those who like the current site and residents at the new location who have very legitimate concerns.”
Handrahan said project remains in a three-week consultation period. Anyone who did not attend Wednesday’s Open House or failed to complete the surveys can still do so at this link.
The survey remains open until 6 p.m. on July 6, 2016.
More information on the proposed changes can be viewed at this MOTI link.
The Ministry will then proceed with archeological studies and get environment assessments on both Queens Bay North and dredging of the West Arm.
“Will it be in the fall?” Handrahan said when asked about the timeline.
“That’s when we’re going to try to put together.”
“We don’t have an eternity to do this,” he adds. “There is some urgency but we don’t want to have a consultation process that takes six months.
“I thought we provided lots of information. We’re getting a lot of good information. We now want to be able to compile that . . ..”
Moore says that’s fine, but don’t leave the residents out in the cold when it comes to making the final decision.
“We just want to know the process,” Moore said.
“Because it’s like suddenly this project appears and we’re not aware of what’s happening.”
“We just have to be kept abreast of their timelines and decision process and kept aware of all developments as they are happening.”