John Betts writes that “major fallacies and false allegations” have been circulating about plans to upgrade the Balfour ferry terminal (seen here) rather than move it to Queens Bay. File photo

OPINION: Time to change Kootenay Lake ferry terminal conversation

An opinion column by John Betts

By John Betts

In November 2016, following a four-month public consultation period, our provincial government announced it would keep the Kootenay Lake ferry landing in Balfour and not act on the widely unpopular proposal to relocate the terminal to Queens Bay.

Since that announcement there have been further public consultations, environmental impact studies completed, joint federal-provincial funding secured, bidders solicited for building a second vessel, and dredging has begun at the mouth of West Arm. It is clear our governments are committed to this plan.

What is troubling is the campaign begun a year ago by an East Shore group demanding our governments halt the project and undertake a review of their decision. The campaigners have occupied considerable space on social media, along with letters to the editor, editorials and coverage in local media around the region. They have been busy presenting to regional and municipal governments appealing to them to support a halt to the project.

Unfortunately, much of what this group has to say is misinformed or misleading. Besides errors in fact repeated in the news and social media, many commentators opposing our government’s decision have resorted to attacks on the character and motives of residents of Balfour and Queens Bay.

Earlier this year some of the group’s spokesmen alleged to RDCK directors corruption on the part of our provincial government in arriving at its decision. Even the RDCK has been implicated with suggestions that its grant to the Queens Bay Residents Association to conduct a socio-economic impact study of relocating the ferry was inappropriate.

None of the false narrative being created around the Kootenay Lake ferry relocation project is helpful. It has served to create confusion and misunderstanding in the community about what actually happened three years ago. It undermines respect for the judgement of governments, making our elected officials and civil servants appear false and arbitrary. Worst of all it does not contribute to good relations and understanding between neighbours.

There are five major fallacies and false allegations in circulation that need to be corrected.

Members of the group say the East Shore was never consulted on the Kootenay Lake ferry relocation project. This is false. Stakeholder meetings included representatives from the East Shore. East Shore residents attended the open house in Balfour in June 2016. Almost as many East Shore residents responded to the government survey on the project as did Balfour and Queens Bay residents. Of the total of all respondents 76 per cent were opposed to relocating the terminal.

Spokespeople for the group accuse the government of making a “political decision” on the ferry relocation. They and their supporters who repeat the allegation don’t define what they mean by a “political decision.” Nor do they offer any evidence. Nevertheless, they imply it is something corrupt.

Of course, politicians do make political decisions. It is legitimate for a politician to consider public sentiment and political consequences of any action. By falsely attacking the decision process the East Shore group avoids having to argue facts.

There have been claims accusing the RDCK of granting the Queens Bay Residents Association money to oppose the ferry relocation. That is misleading. The SNC-Lavalin feasibility study proposing relocating the terminal did not consider the consequences for the Balfour ferry landing businesses. The purpose of the grant was to undertake a socio-economic impact study of relocation as an aid to our government coming to a wise decision. The study showed the ferry landing was an economic engine generating 60 jobs and millions in sales and payroll.

The original SNC-Lavalin feasibility study is frequently cited as comprehensive. It is not. Here’s a short list of its technical oversights:

• It proposed to operate only one ferry assuming that to be reliable;

• It proposed building the Queens Bay landing in an avalanche area without considering the costs to stabilize the adjacent bluffs;

• It did not have a clear strategy to deal with safely berthing the ferry exposed to 10 km of open water;

• It failed to consider the safety risks, or the costs to mitigate them, of having ferry traffic negotiate the narrow and hazardous stretch of Highway 31 north of Balfour to Queens Bay with its congestion and blind curves.

The East Shore group’s protesting the current dredging is misleading and disingenuous. Contrary to their claims, studies found that continuous dredging will not be required to maintain the channel. The alternative plan, which they support, would be to dredge Queens Bay and dump thousands of tons of fill into lake to make a new landing. This would have far more severe losses than the current strategy.

In the end all of us around Kootenay Lake are neighbours. No thoughtful person would deny that East Shore residents deserve reasonable and reliable service. But no changes to that benefit should come with such extreme costs to others as the relocation of the ferry would have led to. It is time now to change the conversation. There are other challenges we all face that deserve our better natures and collective efforts.

John Betts is a member of the Queens Bay Residents Association.

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