Is there a debate about ferry versus fixed link?

Craig Savage asked a variety of people their opinion about ferries versus bridges on the Arrow Lakes.

This week I asked a variety of people their opinion about the potential replacement of at least one of the current ferries crossing the Arrow Lakes with a bridge.

Prior to the construction of a replacement for the aging ferry for the Galena Bay crossing (currently underway), there was considerable local discussion about the possibility of constructing a bridge instead. However, we have heard primarily from the government advocating for the ferry replacement and a vocal local group (the Beaton Arm Crossing Association) calling for a new bridge.

What do most local residents think? The question I asked was as follows: Leaving the relative costs of each option out of the discussion, would our region be better served by construction of a bridge or by continued ferry service?

Most respondents seemed to accept the current state of affairs, with only mild interest in constructing a bridge. One long time senior resident noted a probable increase in traffic—and therefore dollars—into our community as a result of a fixed link. However, with a large contingent of seniors and retirees in the community, future economic growth prospects did not figure very high on their list of priorities. Indeed, one father in his 30s—who has lived here for a few years–expressed dismay at a perceived lack of interest in growth by most of the (older) residents.

One concern expressed with a bridge was a partial loss of what makes this area unique—its isolation. A long-time area resident in his sixties, for example, believed that some people actually visit or live here because it is isolated. Therefore, one of the very things that drew people here could be at least lessened. It was also noted that part of the reason so many local businesses are able to exist in such a small community is the distance required to travel to competitors in larger centres. For many, it doesn’t make sense to spend gas money and time travelling several hours to save 50 cents on a loaf of bread.

The entire discussion seemed pointless to some.

“They’ve been talking about a bridge for years, and it’s never going to happen,” said a man who has called Nakusp home for the last decade.

That point of view was not dispelled by my brief conversation with the BC Ministry of Transportation on the topic. When I inquired about the reasoning behind the choice of a ferry instead of a bridge, I was simply referred to the 2004 ND Lea feasibility study commissioned by the BC government.

“I was not involved in the decision, so I can’t comment on it,” said the representative.  While not making a final decision on the topic, the study did not strike a very optimistic tone about construction of a bridge.

“Population growth in the region has generally been flat,” it reads.  “Population growth…is expected to be less than one per cent per annum over the next 25 years.”

The study also repeatedly emphasizes the challenges in building a bridge over a deep reservoir lake with wide fluctuations in water depth.

“All the options are very expensive,” reads the conclusion section. “There [are] several uncertainties that still exist and will need to be further investigated,” such as geotechnical, environmental, and First Nations concerns.

What do you think about the decision to go ahead with the construction of a new ferry rather than seriously considering building a bridge?  Write a brief response to and let us know.