The Ministry of Transportation insists that moving the Balfour ferry terminal to Queens Bay isn’t a done deal but many residents remain concerned the deck is stacked against them.
Hundreds of people from both sides of Kootenay Lake packed the Redfish elementary school gym for a three-hour open house Wednesday and filled out a questionnaire that asked if they preferred relocating the terminal or upgrading the present location.
However, Queens Bay residents said the materials presented to date, including a technical feasibility study, are skewed in favour of moving the terminal and fail to point out the downsides.
“People are being asked to express a preference based on incomplete information,” said John Beerbower of the Queens Bay Residents Association. “The material is propaganda for their preferred outcome. If they put the countervailing issues in front of us, maybe that would be fair game, but they haven’t.”
The association told the ministry this week that the consultation process is “flawed” and the documentation fails to recognize them as stakeholders.
“As a result, our interests, concerns, and values aren’t represented,” Beerbower said. “It’s strictly a choice between two options, one of which which heavily impacts us.”
He said they have myriad concerns, but chief among them is losing a popular beach used by residents and non-residents alike.
John Betts, a fellow member of the association, said the study completed by SNC-Lavalin overlooks many factors: “We’re saying you didn’t look at socioeconomic, environmental, cultural, and cumulative impacts. We’re telling them the report has large gaps they need to address.”
Betts and others believe moving the ferry terminal to Queens Bay would require highway upgrades, something the report doesn’t address.
They also feel the public consultation period is too short and have asked for more time to make their case. Betts said if that doesn’t happen and they feel unsatisfied, they’ll “seize the process if we can” by holding their own meetings and inviting the ministry.
He said they’ll also seek allies along the lake. “Kootenay Lake influences all of us. And as we are finding out painfully, it also defines us individually. We’ve formed attachments to it, so when we speak up about Queens Bay, we are acting in a custodial role. They’re not going to make any more shoreline here until the next Ice Age. Hopefully the ministry got a strong signal from this neighbourhood that they have to engage with us better.”
Balfour resident Kris Huiberts called the consultation process “a PR stunt.”
“All I see is the pros of moving the ferry and none of the negatives. I feel like it’s a biased set up. I’m disappointed in our government.”
Huiberts said she worries about the environmental impacts of moving the terminal, and what dredging and filling the new site could mean for the Balfour water system, which draws from the south end of Queens Bay. She also said the Ktunaxa First Nation needs to be consulted.
Huiberts, who lives near the existing terminal, doubted that moving the ferry will save as much money as the ministry expects. She also said line-ups on the highway shoulder, cited as a safety concern, are rare, limited to when the Kootenay Pass is closed in winter and when the Starbelly Jam festival is on in summer.
“To me it’s laughable. This is our lifestyle. We chose to live in a beautiful, quiet pristine place. I feel they’re going to rape the bay.”
Capital costs close
The SNC-Lavalin study suggested the Queens Bay option is cheaper at $25 million, compared to $36 to $40 million to improve the present Balfour site and build a new ferry. But a senior government official said the capital costs of the two proposals may actually be very close.
“It could be a wash in the end,” Marine Branch executive director Kirk Handrahan told reporters. “From our perspective, Queens Bay would have much lower operating costs. But it’s going to come at a cost to businesses and community uses. Those are the things we have to weigh.”
Handrahan said they could save money by having smaller crews and not maintaining two vessels. The Queens Bay option would allow the MV Osprey 2000 to handle all ferry traffic on an hourly schedule, and the 62-year-old MV Balfour could be retired. A motorized barge would be used when the Osprey is out for maintenance.
If the terminal remains at Balfour, however, a new ferry would be needed to maintain present service levels, at an estimated cost of $30 million. It might be slightly larger than the MV Balfour, but smaller than the Osprey.
Handrahan said he was pleased with meeting’s turnout and stressed that despite the prevailing sentiment, no decision has been made and money won’t be the sole determining factor.
“This is not a done deal. If we’re going to spend $40 million or $50 million on something that’s going to last at least 40 or 50 years, we need to see if there are other reasonable options. The one thing I know is that I don’t have an option to do nothing.”
While Queens Bay residents asked for an extension of the consultation process, Handrahan said he feels a few weeks is enough time to “get a good sense” of the community’s feelings.
“Is my email going to shut off come July 6? Obviously not. If people have substantive things, good ideas to address the challenges we’re facing, and want to make submissions after that, I welcome them to.”
The ministry expects make a decision in the fall.
Five things to know about the ferry debate
1. If the ferry terminal moved to Queens Bay from Balfour, the crossing time on Kootenay Lake would be halved to 17 minutes from 35, meaning it would no longer be the world’s longest free ferry ride.
2. The Ministry of Transportation says discussions about moving the ferry terminal are driven by two key things: to remain at Balfour will require extensive upgrades and dredging the narrow West Arm channel. Additionally, the MV Balfour, launched in 1954, is nearing the end of its life.
3. Many people wore stickers at the meeting that read “I’m vocal against moving the ferry landing.”
4. East Shore residents, who stand to gain if the terminal moves to Queens Bay, were also represented at the meeting. Gray Creek’s Tom Lymbery estimated at least 25 of them crossed the ferry to be there.
5. A questionnaire distributed by the ministry at Wednesday’s meeting asked respondents to indicate where they live. While it offered nine choices, it omitted Queens Bay.