Just under 60 people filled seats in the Nakusp Arena Auditorium for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOT) presentation about the Upper Arrow Lake Ferry replacement project.
Not bad for what seemed to be a special but hurried public presentation for Nakusp residents. Although there were no newspaper announcements, flyers were put up around town and in mailboxes, and people came out to hear what MOT had to say as well as ask questions they wanted answered.
Participants were greeted with a ring of posters around the cluster of chairs set up for the session Each picture or set of figures pointed to how a new single ferry would replace both Galena and Shelter Bay ferries and still be able to provide sufficient service to the area.
Ministry representative Renee Mounteney was quick to tell people studying a computer graphic of a ferry on one of the displays was just an idea of what the real ferry might look like, maybe, not an actual representation of the new ferry.
Beaton Arm Crossing Association’s (BACA) Earl Frerichs and Gene Nagy were there for the presentation. This MOT presentation was unique to Nakusp, with no others planned for nearby communities. When asked if there would be a presentation in Revelstoke, Renee Mounteney replied that there hadn’t been enough interest to warrant one.
Mounteney started the presentation by first introducing the team of people that had come from MOT for this meeting. Some of the MOT reps included Glenn Ollek the West Kootenay District Manager for the Ministry, and marine architect Callum Campbell, who both answered many of the questions brought to the floor along with Mounteney.
The reason MOT gives for replacing the ferries in the next couple of years is that they are 43 years old, and reaching the end of their service period. Like an old car, Mounteney said, it’s getting harder and harder to find replacement parts. Also like an old car, it is costing more and more to keep the ferries up to day in terms of Transport Canada requirements. Not only that, but the current ferries have weight restrictions that limit the number of passenger vehicles and commercial vehicles that the vessels can carry in one load.
Building a new ferry was seen as a better option than rebuilding existing ferries, because rebuilds also face the difficulty of finding replacement parts as well as having a more limited life span.
At the moment, MOT is seeking proposals from contractors to build the ferry, Mounteney told the crowd, and will be looking to have certain requirements met. These requirements have been developed by studying current industry models, she said, and MOT is looking for a vessel to be built that would have the capacity to carry 80 passenger vehicles, travel up to 11 knots, carry 250 passengers, not have the weight restrictions of the current ferries, and that would be able to accommodate industry and economic growth in the area.
Marine architect Callum Campbell explained how the one new ferry, which would have the capacity to carry 80 passenger vehicles compared to the combined capacity of 78 on the Galena and Shelter Bay vessels, as well as an increased dead weight (total carrying) capacity would allow increased traffic. The limited dead weight capacity of the current ferries means that it is possible to fit one commercial vehicle on, but not be able to fill the rest of the deck with regular cars. A new ferry would be able to accommodate more weight, with fewer cars left behind, meaning fewer waits at the crossing, said Campbell.
Mounteney also stressed that any contractor chosen to build the ferry would have to be able to guarantee a one-hour turn around time any time of the year. One of the advantages of having a new ferry built, she said, is that current models allow in-water, in-service maintenance so repairs don’t necessitate hauling the vessel out of the lake.
The Galena would also be staying in service as a back up for the new ferry for at least the first two years, but would not be removed until an alternate plan to keep the ferries running was in place.
With new technologies, the ferry would also be utilizing more efficient engines which are generally quieter and cleaner burning than the Galena and Shelter Bay ferries, said the MOT rep.
In closing, Mounteney renewed the ministry’s dedication to keeping the community in the loop about the status of the project. At this point, MOT is accepting proposals from contractors until April 10, and the project will be awarded some time in late spring, she said. The new vessel is slated to be ready in 2014, she added, and the contractor will also be required to give a presentation to the community as well.
With that, the floor was open to questions, the first of which was will the ferry be built in or around Nakusp. Like many of the specifics of the project, Mounteney said that it would be up to the contractor, but it would be likely the case that even if it were built offsite that it could be assembled locally.
Dave Holm of Western Pacific Marine (WPM) put his two cents in, starting by noting that MOT had not yet contacted WPM for input about the new ferry. He then said that he thought Nakusp had a good chance of getting it, because the town has the best site on the Arrow Lakes for building or reassembling the ferry.
The next question was whether there would be a dangerous goods provision, and Campbell answered that any ferry must be designed with this in mind, and that dangerous goods would still have specific sailings to ensure the safety of passengers.
Gene Nagy asked how the new ferry would be greener, and Campbell responded by saying that it would depend on design factors like the hull shape and type of engine, but it was definitely possible to achieve a 25 per cent reduction in fuel consumption and emissions. Dave Holm agreed there have been enormous changes in technology over the last ten years, citing new engines with the same horsepower as older machines that are much cleaner.
Someone asked if there was any substance to the rumour that the Galena Bay ferry was going to replace the Needles ferry, and Holm straightened it out: the Shelter Bay ferry is scheduled to temporarily replace the Needles ferry for April. There are no plans for the Galena Bay ferry to replace the Needles ferry, said Mounteney.
Earl Frerichs was openly skeptical of the MOT’s turn around time estimates, saying that his calculations projected a 90 minute turn around during peak times. Campbell replied that there were many things that could be done to streamline the docking process, the current one he characterized as being “needlessly complicated.”
Another concerned community member then asked if the highways would be widened with more passing lanes to accommodate multiple-lane disembarking. Glenn Ollek replied that the ministry was looking at what improvement need to be done and where they can be.
There were more rumblings of skepticism about no increase in turn around time, and the audience was told that contractors had to explain exactly how they would guarantee a one-hour turn around.
Gene Nagy brought a little heat to the question and answer session by claiming the MOT was side-stepping the issue of a fixed link versus building a new ferry by estimating the cost of a bridge at $600 million. The cost of a ferry is estimated to be a fraction of the cost, at $20 million.
“The study looked at world class suspension bridges,” Nagy asserted about the 2004 feasibility study done by MOT, which he deemed “a complete waste of money” because it was studying option completely irrelevant to what is needed here.
Frerichs added that many people in town agree that a fixed link is the only way to have economic growth in Nakusp.
The heated debate simmered down with both parties agreeing that presently there is no fixed link and there wasn’t going to be one before the ferry needed to be replaced. Nagy commented that “of course the ferry needs to be replaced, but let’s get the fixed link started.” Lightening the mood, he added that he was happy to hear that the new ferry would be modular, so there wouldn’t be a problem dismantling it and getting rid of it when a fixed link was built.
Mounteney reassured several inquirers that the funding for this project was secure, and that it was going ahead. She then wrapped up the evening with an invitation to coffee and snacks.