2016’s Top Stories #6: The Kootenay Lake ferry debate

The battle over a proposal to move the Balfour ferry terminal ended in November.

After a summer of heated debate

Speaking out paid off for opponents of a plan that would have moved the Balfour ferry terminal to the north side of Queens Bay.

A 6,000-signature petition opposing the move was sent to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure in October following months of debate.

“It’s been a tough summer, ” said Balfour resident and business owner Robin Goldsbury at the time.

“This is our home. This is our livelihood. It’s time the government listened to the people.”

In the end they did, but only after a drawn-out process that began with a study published in 2012. The report, which was authored by WorleyParsons Canada and made public in 2014, said the move would cut the nine-kilometre route to 5.4 km.

It wasn’t the first time the ferry’s western terminal, which was built in 1947, has been considered for relocation. Previous studies were published in 1990 and 1996, but it was the ministry’s next step that truly sparked public action.

In 2015, the ministry hired engineering firm SNC-Lavalin to investigate potential sites and provide recommendations following concerns about the channel’s depth.

The new study’s conclusions, which were released last June, said Queens Bay was a cheaper option for a terminal at $25 million as opposed to the $36 to $40 million needed to improve Balfour and build a new ferry to replace the 62-year-old MV Balfour.

“The relocation of the Balfour ferry terminal to Queens Bay North was not only technically feasible, it was a superior choice when critically compared under the categories of safety, service, community/stakeholder impact, environmental impact and financial,” according to SNC-Lavalin.

That didn’t sit well with Balfour residents.

Several hundred people packed the Redfish Elementary gym for a three-hour open house to voice their displeasure during a public consultation period.

“All I see is the pros of moving the ferry and none of the negatives,” said Balfour resident Kris Huiberts. “I feel like it’s a biased set up. I’m disappointed in our government.”

The ferry’s relocation did have its supporters with some East Shore residents seeing the benefit in a shorter crossing time.

A 250-signature petition asked the provincial government to consider how the proposed crossing would benefit the East Shore.

“We are just trying to say, listen, this is how it will help us,” said Crawford Bay’s Mike Jeffrey, who started the petition.

“We get all this negativity over there but nobody is listening to the fact that there is a community over here that this will benefit.”

But the anti-move voices turned out to be far louder.

In August, the Regional District of Central Kootenay indirectly sided with Balfour by providing a grant of nearly $9,000 to the Queens Bay Residents Association to study the impact of moving the ferry.

The association’s spokesperson John Betts told the Star his group had made a list of 50 objections to the SNC-Lavalin study.

“They didn’t look at the economy that has been created around the ferry landing to capture tourist dollars and enhance the amenities of Balfour, which then adds more money to the economy,” he said.

In October, the association and the Balfour Ferry Business Coalition submitted a 6,000-signature petition to the ministry asking for the terminal to stay put.

That proved effective. The ministry announced on Nov. 3 that the terminal will likely stay put, and cited public opposition as a vital part of the decision.

Instead, Minister Todd Stone said the government will refocus on improving the terminal’s current location.

“We know there are challenges with keeping the terminal at Balfour,” said Stone in a statement.

“However, as a result of what we heard, we will focus on doing the technical analysis and work to retain the terminal at Balfour, including the potential dredging of the west arm.”

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