by Sam McBride
A reguular topic of discussion this summer in the West Kootenay region is the future of the Kootenay Lake Ferry.
Consulting company SNC Lavalin concluded in a study for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) that the West terminal for the ferry service at Balfour be abandoned, and replaced by a new terminal to be constructed at a greenfield site at north Queens Bay, approx. 4 kilometers north of Balfour.
The government commenced public consultation on the issue at an open house in Harrop on June 15, 2016. The original deadline for public feedback was July 6, 2016, and this was later extended to October 6, 2016. The government has said that no final decision on the issue has been made, but the options have been narrowed down to either stay in Balfour and make improvements there, or build a new ferry terminal at north Queens Bay.
An online poll by the Nelson Daily showed that 85% of respondents chose the Balfour option over construction of a new terminal at a greenfield site.
For the record, here is my submission to the minister, and his response. Also below are images that illustrate the situation.
- LETTER TO MOTI MINISTER, SENT JUY 6, 2016
July 6, 2016
TO: the Hon. Todd Stone,
Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure
Government of British Columbia
RE: proposal to move the Kootenay Lake Ferry west terminal from Balfour to Queens Bay
Dear Minister Stone:
Please include me among West Kootenay residents who are against moving the ferry from Balfour in the West Arm to a previously undisturbed site at Queens Bay.
The West Kootenay is unusual in B.C. because its population today is actually less than it was 120 years ago, when Nelson, Rossland and the Slocan Valley were beehives of mining and mineral exploration. While the rest of the province has grown and prospered in the last couple of decades, our region has generally stagnated. Many of our problems are transportation-related, most notably our regional airport at Castlegar which has earned the nickname Cancelgar because of the extreme unreliability of service in winter months, which is a huge barrier to economic development.
While, on one hand, we admit with embarrassment to having the country`s worst regional airport, on the other hand we take pride in the Kootenay Lake Ferry cruise – known far and wide as The Longest Free Ferry Ride in the World. It is the jewel in the crown of our region`s tourism industry. I have taken the ferries (Anscomb, Balfour and Osprey) hundreds of time, and never once thought the trip took too much time. I often take the opportunity of the voyage across the breadth of the lake to point out to guests and tourists the historical landmarks such as the Pilot Bay Smelter chimney and the Pilot Bay Lighthouse.
Sorry, but a shuttle service directly across the lake to a new terminal at Queens Bay would take all of the magic out of the journey. It would be the hum-drum equivalent of the Fauquier-Needles ferry. One less tourist attraction for a region with an endemically fragile economy. No place would suffer more from a ferry terminal move that the town of Balfour, which stands to lose 60 jobs. I think we have enough ghost towns already in the West Kootenay without adding Balfour to the list. Jobs in the north end of Kootenay Lake are few and far between as it is, which has been a key factor in the threatened closure of schools in the region due to fewer student numbers.
Something missing in the studies that have been done on the ferry issue is detailed analysis of the freakish storms experienced on the Main Lake as opposed to the much calmer West Arm. And the West side of the lake – particularly Queens Bay which is directly exposed to lake storms – has worse storms that the East Shore. That is why you see boathouses on the West Arm and the East Shore, but not on the West Shore.
Many people assume that a lake is a lake, but Kootenay Lake is a mountain lake very different from prairie lakes or even the Okanagan lakes. I recently did some research at the Touchstone Archives to see why Balfour was chosen to be the west side terminal for the ferry service. In the summer of 1944 when plans for the new ferry service were being discussed, the Nelson Daily News reported a commercial group urging Queens Bay as site for the west ferry terminal, but some old-time residents who knew the lake intimately from sternwheeler days came forward and said weather at Queens Bay was too hazardous. They recommended Balfour as the proverbial safe port in a storm.
With 62 years of service, the MV Balfour has lasted longer than both the Moyie and the Anscomb. I think everyone would agree that the Balfour is on its last legs. But I think the response to this situation is to upgrade facilities at Balfour and buy a new energy efficient second ferry to replace the Balfour, rather than a high-risk, high-consequence move to a greenfield site.
At the open house at Harrop I asked engineers about back-up to the Osprey after the Balfour is de-commissioned. One said they were looking at getting a motorized barge at the cost of about $11 million. Another said that they would likely use a barge used elsewhere in the province which can be disassembled and transported to Kootenay Lake for re-assembly as a barge to be pushed across the lake when the Osprey was down for maintenance.
The idea of barge service replacing the magnificent and distinctive Kootenay Lake Ferry cruise is quite worrisome. Friends of mine in Proctor say they dread it when the Harrop ferry is down for maintenance, because the motorized barge is extremely slow and problematic. And that is for a relatively short distance across the West Arm. Barge trips across Kootenay Lake would be a scary proposition, as bad weather can come up very quickly.
I have kayaked extensively between Balfour and Airnsworth, and had several close calls with stormy weather, including a terrifying experience when our two-man kayak was almost swept into the rocks at McEwan Point by heavy winds and strong current from the south. And last August I watched in amazement as our 80-pound canoe parked upside down on a beach at Queens Bay was picked up by a squall and sent about 30 metres in the air down the beach about 100 metres and about 10 metres out into the lake. If a person or open boat had been where the canoe was, who knows what would have happened to them.
According to the booklet “Historical Shipwrecks of the West Kootenay District“ by the Underwater Archaeological Society of British Columbia, a total of 48 wreck sights have been reported or located on the lake. They say the largest category of wrecks involves barges. Five have been located and eight more are rumoured. The next largest category of wrecks is barges with rail cars.
I expect MOTI will always put safety first, and not send the Osprey, or, especially, a flimsy pre-fabricated barge, if there is any threat at all of bad weather. One consequence of this would be a dramatic reduction in reliability of service in the Main Lake ferry. I fear we would become known for bad ferry service year-round just as we are the laughing stock of the province for bad air service at Cancelgar in the winter!
The West Kootenay has contributed greatly to the economic development of B.C. through its mines, metal processing, forestry operations, and hydro-electric operations through the years. We don`t deserve to be thrown under the bus due to a highly speculative and risky ferry terminal move. Please do the required dredging of the West Arm channel, upgrade the docks in Balfour, and obtain a new second ferry we can be proud of. A new small-scale ferry could replace the Osprey through much of the year when there are less than 25 cars in line for ferry service, and thus extend the operating life of the Osprey and reduce operating costs at the same time.
Sam E. McBride
202 – 719 11 Avenue
Castlegar, B.C. V1N 1J7
2. RESPONSE FROM THE MINISTER – AUG. 11, 1016
257989 – Balfour Ferry Terminal
Thank you for your correspondence concerning the ministry’s work to address challenges at the Balfour Ferry Terminal.
Our inland ferry system is an integral part of the transportation network for the region and a vital asset for Kootenay communities, and we recognize its importance to local tourism and economic interests. The safety and reliability of ferries and terminals are also key considerations in our long-term transportation strategy. There are a number of issues that impact the operation of the ferry service at the existing terminal that led the ministry to initiate a study in 2015 to assess the technical feasibility of relocating the Balfour ferry terminal to an alternate location. The feasibility study is now complete.
The ministry recently released a discussion guide and held a public information session in Nelson. The discussion guide, the information presented at the open house and an online survey are available online at http://www.gov.bc.ca/balfourterminal.
The ministry has presented two options to address the challenges. The first option involves undertaking work at the current terminal, dredging of the west arm and replacing the MV Balfour. The second option involves relocating the terminal to Queens Bay. The ministry has not made a decision and will continue to engage with the community, interested First Nations and other parties on the proposed options.
As you may be aware, the ministry has extended the deadline for public comment by three months, giving Balfour and area residents until October 6, 2016 to provide input.Once the public consultation process is complete, the results will be shared online and a report will be presented to government to help inform its decision making process.
I have relayed your feedback to the project team.
Thank you for taking the time to write.
Todd G. Stone
Copy to: Balfour Ferry Terminal Project Team
3. IMAGES ASSOCIATED WITH THE FERRY ISSUE