Proponents say they’re in for long haul with fixed link effort
By Craig Savage/Special to the Arrow Lakes News
The Beaton Arm Crossing Association (BACA) held an informational meeting at the Nakusp Seniors’ Hall on Thursday, Feb. 16, providing updates about their efforts to build a bridge in place of Galena Bay/Shelter Bay ferry.
BACA members Earl Frerichs and Gene Nagy presented some highlights of their extensive research into the issue and reported the details of their recent meetings with Kootenay-Columbia MP David Wilks and Norm Parkes with the Ministry of Transportation.
They said Wilks has encouraged BACA not to give up in their fixed link effort, but to keep the issue on the provincial agenda. Nagy and Frerichs had hoped to also present a response from the Ministry at Thursday’s meeting, but unfortunately they had not yet received it. They did remind everyone that an informational meeting is expected in March about the proposed new ferry to replace the current ones (DEV Galena and MV Shelter Bay).
Means of financing construction of a bridge were discussed at length. The proposed Beaton Arm crossing and re-crossing at Sidmouth would cost an estimated $198 million, they said. “The federal government could cover half of the costs,” explained Frerichs, who noted that large projects are often completed in difficult economic times to stimulate the economy. He felt $30 million now allocated toward a new ferry could instead be spent on the new bridge. They also hope to partner with BC Hydro or another utility to generate power at the Sidmouth crossing, potentially saving another $16 million.
Discussions with Victoria regarding the final $53 million needed have not been encouraging. There is no money currently available for the project, and the Ministry is not convinced that BACA’s estimated construction costs are correct, attendees at the meeting heard. One proposed solution is a public private partnership (P3) that would use payments of a “shadow toll” – yearly payments proportional to actual traffic using the road – from the provincial government to private investors. Similar funding schemes have been used for the upgraded Sea to Sky Highway and other projects.
There was some productive discussion during the question and answer period that followed. One questioner asked if other communities such as Revelstoke, Castlegar, Nelson, or even Spokane could lend their support to the project as well. he presenters said that the leaders of Revelstoke are primarily concerned with the Trans-Canada Highway, not a link to the Arrow Lakes area. However, one of the proposed routes for the fixed link sought to bring Revelstoke on board by including a replacement for the aging bridge across the Illecillewaet River. Though a few Revelstoke residents have voiced support, high costs and the possibility of traffic problems have kept local Revelstoke municipal leadership skeptical about the plan.
As for the rest of the region, there have been stalled discussions of a major north-south corridor from Spokane all the way to Highway 1 for decades. The concept has been around for many years, and the B.C. Ministry of Transportation recently told the Arrow Lakes News there were no plans to proceed with that project.
BACA members are opposed to such a corridor, because they have seen little or no benefit to small towns near giant new projects such as the Coquihalla. They are concerned that for too long communities of the Arrow Lakes – desperate for development and economic activity – have accepted any development rather than what would benefit locals the most. Frerichs would prefer that in the event such a corridor were built, it should happen on the other side of the Columbia. The fixed link would then likely be built as part of the corridor project.
Nagy pressed those in attendance to get behind the fixed crossing effort, even if a new ferry comes in. “It will be built in my lifetime,” insisted Nagy. Government officials have indicated to BACA that they have 10-years of work ahead of them before construction could start. BACA members see that as all the more reason to keep pressing ahead with their lobbying efforts now. The full business case is available free at arrowbaca.ca, or a hard copy can be obtained for $25 by calling 250-265-4011.