Not everyone is against moving the Kootenay Lake ferry landing to Queens Bay.
Some residents of the East Shore think the move would help their community by creating a safer, quicker, and more energy efficient way of crossing the lake.
The provincial government’s proposed new ferry terminal at Queens Bay would reduce crossing time from 35 to 18 minutes and it would increase frequency to once per hour from the current 50 minutes in the summer and one hour and 40 minutes in the winter.
Engineer Garry Jackman, who represents the East Shore on the board of the Regional District of Central Kootenay, says the ferry landings have changed locations several times before in the interest of improving the efficiency of the highway system. He says he thinks of it as the Kootenay Lake ferry, not the Balfour-Kootenay Bay Ferry.
There are inefficiencies built into the current system that lead to safety problems, he says, including traffic congestion and a high carbon footprint. He says one solution would be for the province to build a new vessel.
Build a right-sized vessel
“We have the (30-vehicle) MV Balfour that is inefficient,” he says, “and the (80-vehicle) MV Osprey moving largely empty most of the year. You can add capacity, whether you change ferry locations or not, by building a right-sized vessel.”
One of the province’s reasons for the proposed move of the ferry terminal is that the hull of the Osprey is being damaged in the shallow entrance to the Balfour ferry landing.
Jackman says a new, modern, diesel-and-electric vessel, sitting higher in the water, would not have this problem and could handle all the traffic on its own, except in the summer when the Osprey could be brought in to help with summer traffic.
Bringing in such a vessel would work well at either a Balfour or Queens Bay landing, he says.
The advantage of Queens Bay, he says, is that running either a new ferry or the Osprey from Queens Bay would allow hourly service, a shorter trip, and more fuel efficiency. It would mean less traffic congestion because passengers would spent less time in ferry line-ups.
“Capacity goes way up, so it is entirely possible to scrap the Balfour, run the Osprey on that quick turnaround schedule and get a fabulous increase in capacity and reliability. Any increase in capacity has advantages because you don’t have to worry about getting in line early.”
A ferry toll in the future?
Jackman says all provincial ministers have a mandate letter that requires them to increase efficiency in their operations, and this includes carbon footprint.
“If you cannot reduce or contain the cost per vehicle per crossing, we put ourselves at risk of not being able to keep the ferry free. We made the argument that when the Osprey came into service it did not have to have a toll attached to it. If we ignore opportunities to increase efficiency we may be asking for a toll down the road.”
Restoring Balfour beach
Jackman takes a long view of foreshore impacts, saying 50 per cent of the foreshore of the West Arm has been modified, mostly by highways and the railway, and that in fact the Queens Bay beach is not pristine because it has a highway above it.
Jackman says a ferry landing at Queens Bay would allow the restoration of the beach at Balfour, neutralizing the impact to the foreshore.
An East Shore petition
Mike Jeffrey of Crawford Bay has started a petition, so far with about 250 local signatures, asking the government to consider how an 18-minute ferry crossing would benefit the East Shore.
“We are just trying to say, listen, this is how it will help us. 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.”
He says there would be benefits for commuters, students, businesses, property values, and emergency vehicles.
Jeffrey is a longtime resident of the East Shore who has worked for many years on the economic development committee for the area. He says East Shore residents use the ferry more than those on the Balfour side.
‘We are the people who use the ferry’
“From Gray Creek to Riondel, we do rely on it and we are the people that use it. You live your life around the ferry around here. Creston is a long haul, and you know what those roads in the winter time are like.”
Jeffrey says many East Shore residents work in Nelson, and that a shorter and more frequent ferry “would make a difference of about 200 minutes a week for them, in commuting time, and more sailings would better align with their times to get to work.”
He said the East Shore could become “a satellite community for Nelson, but in a smaller way than Harrop and Procter, and property values on this side of the lake would go up 10 per cent.”
Jeffrey says not everyone, but a “significant number” of people on the East Shore are in favour of the proposed changes.
‘Second class citizens?’
Glen Strom, who grew up on the East Shore, runs Fishhawk Bay Marina Resort in Crawford Bay as well as a heavy construction company and a trucking company. He says a shorter more frequent ferry would “open up my world.”
He said he works in other areas of BC and in Alberta but is restricted from working in Nelson and Kaslo because of the inconvenient ferry schedule.
“The East Shore is treated like second class citizens and Balfour is basically milking it for money,” he says. “They want to keep the ferry long so they can keep us sitting over there waiting for the ferry, spending our money in their little stores, waiting for the boat so we can get home.”
Ambulances and extra-curricular activities
Strom says the medical services in Nelson are superior to those in Creston and sometimes ambulances have long waits.
“There has never been an emergency from Balfour to Kootenay Bay. There is never an ambulance sitting there at the ferry at Balfour waiting to come to Crawford Bay.”
Strom says a shorter and more frequent ferry would have educational benefits.
“My wife works at Crawford Bay School. The kids’ extra curricular activities could be done in Nelson if the ferry was shortened up. Soccer, hockey, dance, you name it, all the things they need to stay out of trouble. Taking them to Creston after school, by the time you get home it’s 9 p.m.”
Asked about the concerns of Queens Bay residents about their beach, Strom said, “They will have a nicer beach when they pull the ferry out of Balfour. If they pull all those pilings and all the junk out of there, it will be a nicer beach than Queens Bay.”
Strom says there would be environmental benefits.
“How much fuel you are not going to burn on a 20 minute run, instead of that tour they are doing now?”
Tailoring the conversation
Jackman says the point is not to get to a consensus because, “guess what, that doesn’t matter. The ministry does not require our consensus. The administration of the foreshore at Queens Bay is in the realm of transportation infrastructure and they are sister department to the environment ministry, which has allowed marinas and other foreshore development to go ahead.
“But we can try to tailor the conversation to see if there are interim steps or modifications to the proposal that would result in a better result.”
That includes the government hearing the voices of East Shore residents, he suggests.
Province looks at moving Balfour ferry terminal, September 18, 2014
Balfour ferry terminal move ‘years out,’ MLA says, September 19, 2014
Kootenay Lake study identified top Queens Bay terminal site, November 14, 2014
Meeting planned on Balfour ferry terminal move, May 31, 2016
Battle brewing over Balfour ferry terminal, June 12, 2016
Queens Bay ferry move would cost $25-million, study says, June 14, 2016
Residents pack Kootenay Lake ferry meeting, June 16, 2016
Turn Queens Bay beach into regional park, residents say, June 27, 2016
Group set to study impact of Balfour ferry loss, August 26, 2916