The MV Osprey 2000 is seen at the Kootenay Bay ferry landing. Photo: Tamara Hynd

COLUMN: East Shore finds diligence lacking on ferry decision

Opinion from Herve Blezy of the East Shore Advocacy Society

By Herve Blezy

Community Comment

Germany is a model of energy efficiency. The country has reduced its energy intensity by 25 per cent between 2000 and 2017. In fact, Germany claimed the top spot on an international energy efficiency scorecard. Canada ranked 10th based on its energy efficiency policies and performance.

There is a great opportunity to reduce our energy consumption here in the Kootenays. In August, I attended the climate change townhall in Nelson and the discussion led by MPs Peter Julian and Wayne Stetski. I appreciated their enthusiasm for climate change initiatives and how we must change now and faster.

Their comments are in contrast to the positions taken by the provincial government on the Kootenays’ transportation systems. The inefficiency of our transportation systems should take into account the highway traffic travelling through the region, around Kootenay Pass, from the East Shore or West Shore, the extra ferry traffic distance and logistics.

A reduction in Kootenay Pass or extended regional traffic could be caused by hourly sailings that are achievable by moving the Balfour terminal to Queens Bay. With the increase in timely service, tourists and residents will start using the ferry more frequently.

This past summer, the entire region was impacted by the ferry being out of commission due to reliability issues, the fifth event in the past 18 months concerning this transportation corridor. What is remarkable is that all these traffic delays are preventable with a change in terminal location due to the shorter distance and with no impacts from low or high water events.

Some businesses experienced revenue losses nearing 50 per cent. We have a ferry that travels 38 per cent further than is required! Consequently, many residents and tourists travel around the Kootenay Pass or shop elsewhere in the region, wasting fuel and time.

Furthermore, dredging in the West Arm is now occurring which may have been preventable and or reduced in area substantially.

We have been requesting for nearly two years that a due diligence review be completed by the Ministry of Transportation on this project and we have received no information. Unfortunately, a local chamber of commerce has claimed it is too late for such a review and is concerned that funding from the province or federal government may be withheld by the possible change in direction and possible confusion. They are also concerned that ferry tolls maybe instituted. I find these arguments weak.

Are not climate change initiatives more important? Was there not an environmental urgency communicated by municipalities, provinces and the federal governments? To be balanced, the same chamber agrees that a due diligence review should be done and that the ministry should have developed a transition plan for impacted individuals/businesses. This we can all agree upon.

What will it take for the provincial government to take action and undertake a due diligence review? The 20th significant traffic delay event? Never? It is very clear to me that provincial parties have visions, strategies and action plans but when the time comes to take action, they check to see if their actions impact their voting base and, if so, may compromise their environmental values and party policies.

Some taxpayers do not believe our claims or think that a new electric ready ferry will eliminate the problem. Consider though, whether the ferry is electric or not we will continue to waste 38 per cent of the energy with the Balfour terminal location. Imagine a homeowner who is trying to convert their oil furnace into an efficient electrical heating system but leaves over 38 per cent of the windows in the home open on a continuous basis. Should not the homeowner’s first step be to close the windows?

This gets even better. After the federal minister of infrastructure and communities announced $17 million towards the new ferry, I called the Ottawa office and had a discussion with the press secretary and western policy advisor and again there was no due diligence. I told him that the option chosen would never meet the federal government’s climate change initiatives.

It should be understood by all taxpayers that this work process has probably been in place for years and irrespective of the governing political party. A due diligence review would determine that a smaller, electric-ready ferry could be built, implemented sooner than announced, and operated at a lower cost, with less emissions with increased service.

Remember that if we do not change, the new electric-ready ferry will still be 38 per cent inefficient for no extra service. Contact your elected officials to discuss the largest energy improvement opportunity in the Kootenays and ask for due diligence. Let us improve our global energy ranking.

Herve Blezy is with the East Shore Advocacy Society.

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