Kootenay advocates cheering the decision to keep the ferry landing in Balfour must now turn their attention towards its future, according to Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall, and questions remain about how things will play out.
“My understanding from Ministry of Transportation staff is they will begin looking at next steps on what it takes to keep the ferry landing there,” she told the Star.
“The M.V. Balfour has to be retired, so there’s questions about that, and there will be requests for proposals put out.
“The question will be what kind of service vessel they’re looking for, and then there will be conversations and analysis around dredging.”
According to the ministry that analysis work has already begun, but they didn’t release any information around their proposed timeline or when citizens can expect work to begin.
In an email response they wrote “the ministry is going to do the technical analysis and work needed to retain the terminal.”
“This includes examining what can be done to ensure safe navigation of the narrow channel and shallow lakebed.”
All of this could be costly, though, and Mungall has heard residents express concerns about the environmental impact of the construction.
As well, she said many East Shore residents would like see the ferry schedule rejigged.
“I’d like the province to add that to the table. My understanding is the ferry schedule has been a long-standing problem since the Liberals came into power in 2001 and began cutting hours,” she said.
“I’d like to see the ministry add that element to the conversation.”
She said right now residents are not being properly served.
“This is not about bean-counting, it’s about how we live. Since I’ve been MLA I’ve been hearing regularly from East Shore residents that the schedule is a problem, everyone who lives there know it’s a problem, and it’s one I’d like to see solved.”
But the ministry believes there isn’t enough traffic to justify more trips.
“There are 15 round trips daily in peak season, and 10 round trips daily during winter. At the present time traffic volumes aren’t high enough to warrant additional sailings,” they wrote in an email.
Mungall is thrilled the ferry’s staying put.
“There has been amazing work done here by local citizens, some who have never been politically active before. What they have to be vigilant about now is making sure the community process going forward serves the communities on both sides of the lake in a way that’s suitable for our local economy.”
She called for her constituents to “hold the government accountable” during this process.
“I always tell my colleagues in Victoria: don’t mess with people in the Kootenays. We will voice our concerns and make sure we are heard.”
But according to the ministry, planning is still in the early stages.
“The ministry is still looking at its options.”