Queens Bay residents would rather see their beach turned into a park than a parking lot.
At a meeting last week, they announced hopes that a stretch of shoreline being eyed as a potential new western terminal for the Kootenay Lake ferry can become a regional park instead.
“I don’t think we could effectively use this to confound the Ministry of Transportation’s determination to put a ferry terminal in Queens Bay directly,” John Betts of the Queens Bay Residents Association told 103.5 Juice FM. “But we can use this as an indicator of public support for not putting the ferry there. If we have broad support, it’s another way to demonstrate the groundswell for leaving the ferry terminal in Balfour and preserving the bay.”
Betts said even if the ministry decides to upgrade the ferry terminal in its existing location, turning the beach into a park is still a good idea. The Regional District of Central Kootenay has created several new parks on Crown land, such as Balfour Beach and Waterloo Eddy, but the process usually takes several years and requires the sponsorship of a provincial ministry.
A petition supporting the park is circulating, while a separate online petition calls on government to keep the ferry landing in Balfour. Betts didn’t think the park idea would be a “cog in the machinations of government,” but if successful “it would be very valuable to preserve cultural, environmental, and recreational values. It’s a tactic in the meantime and a strategic goal in the long term.”
About 125 people attended Thursday’s meeting to strategize opposition to relocating the Balfour terminal. The ministry says it will either have to upgrade the existing terminal and build a new ferry to replace the aging MV Balfour, or move the terminal to Queens Bay, which would save on operating costs and reduce the crossing time, but also wipe out a popular beach and potentially threaten Balfour businesses.
A public consultation period is underway until July 6, although many residents say the process seems slanted in favour of the Queens Bay option.
“I don’t think people feel that the ministry is listening to them,” Balfour business owner Robin Goldsbury said in a news release. “The purpose of [Thursday’s] meeting was to hear people’s concerns and show there is leadership determined to keep the ferry terminal and local businesses operating in Balfour. If we can do that we can protect the pristine environmental and recreational values of Queens Bay.”
Betts said they will bombard politicians at all levels of government with letters, urging them to keep the terminal at its present location.
“Crude as it sounds, that’s one of the main ways politicians removed from the fray can actually get a good impression of what’s going on in the neighborhood,” he said.
However, he added that some people “just don’t believe the government would be so foolish to close Balfour, then wreck one of the nicest bays on the lake,” while others feel it’s already a done deal.
The group has asked for an extension on the consultation process, which Betts says would give them more time to address gaps in a feasibility study that concluded a new terminal would be preferable to the existing location. Thursday’s meeting was partly a call for for volunteers to help develop an action plan to present to the minister that includes environmental and socio-economic impacts of moving the terminal.
The ferry’s western terminal has been at Balfour since 1947, but the idea of moving it to Queens Bay has been studied three times since 1990. A consultant’s report suggested the process of moving the terminal would take up to four years, including construction over two summers.
Below: This poster was spotted at the Old World Bakery in Balfour (Sam McBride photo)