Change coming to Kootenay Lake Ferry

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The new ferry replacing the MV Balfour, which currently transports up to 28 cars and 150 passengers, will carry twice the capacity. ? Screenshot photo

Posted May 29, 2019

During peak times of the year, the Kootenay Lake Ferry system struggles to keep up with the traffic flow, especially when the MV Opsrey is out of commission for maintenance during low water in the West Arm of Kootenay Lake or when Highway 3 Kootenay Pass is closed to avalanche controls.

Recognizing this problem and understanding the MV Balfour was built in 1954, the BC Government, with assistance from the Feds, announced in April the building of a new larger, electric-ready vessel that will carry twice the capacity of the current MV Balfour — between 50-60 vehicles. The MV Balfour currently transports up to 28 cars and 150 passengers.

The new unnamed vessel will be used in tandem with the MV Osprey 2000 to significantly decrease wait times during peak times of the year.

“The continued safe and efficient operation of our inland ferry service is extremely important to our government, to residents and to the travelers who rely on it,” said a spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

“The MV Balfour is reaching the end of its serviceable life and will need to be replaced by 2022.”

Both governments — BC $37,515,720 and Federal $17,176,667 — are sharing costs for the project, which includes upgrades to the Balfour and Kootenay Bay terminals. The Federal funds are part of the New Building Canada Plan.

“The Province is moving ahead with improvements to the Kootenay Lake ferry service which includes procurement of a new vessel to replace the aging MV Balfour, terminal upgrades at both the Balfour and Kootenay Bay ferry terminals, and minor dredging in the west arm of Kootenay Lake,” the MOTI said.

The dredging component of the project will start this year and should be completed by the end of 2019 said MOTI spokesperson.

“This work will create safe travels for the Kootenay Lake ferries during all seasons, by giving the vessels enough clearance to travel through the water in this channel,” the MOTI said.

The MOTI said the Province is committed to completing this work in compliance with all applicable environmental regulations and with minimal impact on the environment and habitat.

“The dredging work will be overseen by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the provincial Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations,” the MOTI said.

Once complete, the MOTI said this minor dredging work will ensure that all Kootenay Lake ferries that operate on the route will have enough clearance to navigate the west arm at all times of the year.

“This work is expected to be complete by the end of 2019 to avoid disruption during low water in the spring of 2020,” the MOTI said.

“The MV Osprey 2000 would continue to be most efficient during spring and fall ‘shoulder seasons’, and both vessels would operate during the busiest summer peak season.”

The province said the terminal improvements came after public survey reveals a strong need for public washrooms, better parking and a proper transit stop at the Balfour terminal.

“People can expect to see improvements such as better lighting, washrooms, more parking, expanded greenspaces, and more shelter at both terminals,” the MOTI said.

“Improvements will also be made to Highway 31 and 3A to increase the terminal’s queueing capacity to accommodate 40% more vehicles during peak season and to improve safety for both Highway 3A and ferry users.”

“Together, these improvements will provide travellers with a safer and more reliable ferry service,” the MOTI added.

Work on the new ferry is expected to go out to bid very soon, with the anticipated vessel launch in 2022.

Upgrades to the new ferry terminals are planned to be starting in 2020.

Currently, there are no plans to increase the ferry runs but the province said they are listening to users.

“Ferry users won’t see any change to service for the foreseeable future, but going forward, the Province will continue to assess ways to improve the ferry service,” the MOTI said.

As for the name of the new ferry?

“The names of inland Ferries typically reflect the local environment where they operate,” the MOTI said.

“It’s too early to start naming the new vessel, but we’ll be looking for ways to engage with the public throughout the process.”