An online petition with over 250 signatures is asking B.C. Transportation and Infrastructure Minster Blair Lekstrom to restore the former sailing times of the Kootenay Lake ferries.
The petition coincides with this spring’s contract renewal for Western Pacific Marine, which operates the MV Osprey 2000 and MV Balfour. (Western Pacific Marine representatives have not yet been available for comment.)
“We were told if we wanted changes made to the schedule, now was the time,” said East Shore resident Jai English.
Citing health, economic viability, social development, work opportunities and shopping in Nelson, Castlegar and Kaslo, the petition was created by East Shore resident Nicole Plouffe in mid-March, with the goal of reaching 500 signatures.
“As a small community we rely on the proximity of larger towns and cities to sustain our quality of life,” says the petition. “We are dependent on these communities for many aspects of our lives and reduced ferry sailings have impeded our way of life.”
The Kootenay Lake ferries used to start the day with a 6:05 commuter run from Kootenay Bay to Balfour. The day would end with a 12:20 a.m. sailing from Balfour to Kootenay Bay, followed by a 1:10 a.m. return sailing. About 10 years ago, the schedule was cut back, with final sailings becoming 9:40 p.m. from Balfour and 10:20 p.m. from Kootenay Bay.
To make the 9:40 p.m. sailing to get home, East Shore residents have had to forego movies, theatre and concerts in West Kootenay communities.
“There’s been a lot of culture lost,” said English, whose daughter commutes to Nelson for a French immersion program.
It’s also been difficult to maintain adequate health services in the area; Crawford Bay has a clinic, but its hours of operation are limited.
While the petition specifically asks for the former schedule to be reinstated, residents are also interested in seeing a more significant change, from the current 50-minute schedule to an on-the-hour operation. Information being passed around the East Shore suggests that an hourly schedule would be more cost-effective.
“The crew costs would go up … but with the longer time in dock, crew costs would be offset by reduced maintenance costs and fuel costs,” said English.
A schedule change would decrease confusion and anxiety for travellers, who often use Highway 3A specifically for the ferry trip, often touted as the world’s longest free ferry ride.
“It’s one of the features that a lot of communities try to create in some other way,” English said.
As with others on the East Shore, English wants the petition to help the cause, and sees it as a peaceful way of letting the government know what residents want.
“This isn’t a fight against anything,” she said. “This is a creative way of problem-solving. This is a good opportunity to look at it from a different perspective and hopefully help. … No one is asking for more, we’re just asking for a revision of what is.”