Letter: A response to the fixed link feasibility study

Tuesday, March 22 2016

Gabriola Islands Bridge Society and at least three engineers have reviewed the 2015 Gabriola Island fixed link feasibility study and concluded that this document as released by the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure deliberately misrepresents the facts to the public.

We find evidence of several layers of padding in the fixed link costs, which grossly exaggerates the cost of a fixed link by 250 per cent. There is enough money packed into the fixed link estimate to build several fixed links or a super multi-lane highway.

We find evidence of several deliberate omissions of true BC Ferries costs, which downplays the real costs of BC Ferries and completely ignoring the BC Ferries financial impact upon the community.

We see the negative impact of a fixed link exaggerated by using a free un-tolled bridge, which they say causes gentrification, immediately doubles traffic to and from the island, and quadruples it over the 25 year study period. They then add up the discretionary additional driver traffic costs, from the freedom a fixed link would give users and mount it against a bridge. Furthermore, they added all that extra pollution up as well. They threw Native concerns, environmental concerns, fisheries concerns, property value loss against a bridge, all while downplaying the negative impacts of the existing ferry, people leaving and property values collapsing, which is the very problem we were all trying to solve by even suggesting a bridge instead of the ferry.

We find it suspicious that the report was released by CH2M Hill to MOTI in the spring of 2015 yet was not released to the public until January 2016. It was not signed by the CH2M Hill engineer, which is customary, as shown by the additional Thurber Geological report, which was added in April 2015. It was not released in its original CH2M Hill form by the government, after a formal request by John Mallett of Mudge Island under the Freedom of Information Act, on the grounds that it would hurt the government. This further supports our view that this report was doctored to fail any attempt at implementing a fixed link.

This Liberal Government found itself in a quandary. They announced the feasibility study after repeated demonstrations and letter-writing campaigns against ferry fare increases then service cuts, hoping that would alleviate the problem. This was done one week prior to an Islands Trust-sponsored UBCM report damning the BCF fare increases. It succeeded in killing any further war on ferry costs, however, it did not stop the war. Instead it shifted focus. The Islands Trust arranged protests and petitions against any bridge, which led to the NDP and the NDP-dominated Nanaimo City and Nanaimo Regional District to oppose the scheme as well.

Then the CH2M Hill estimate came in with a price too high. That was a surprise. CH2M Hill had used a 1993 BCF study as its base, which was for a four lane highway and major ferry terminal on Gabriola. If the government proceeded with the bridge, it faced a war with the Islands Trust, the NDP and many citizens on Gabriola suspicious that this was another campaign to build a short-link terminal on Gabriola to cut BCF costs. It faced on the other side, the Gabriola Island Bridge Society, which would argue their case for a bridge by showing the true costs of BC Ferries and their negative financial impact on the island. This would bring the BC Ferries costs into the forefront of the upcoming 2017 election, which the NDP would love, an issue that could possibly defeat the Liberal Government.

So what was the government to do in such a situation? Kill any possibility of a Gabriola bridge - do it decisively and publicly, to take BC ferries costs out of the limelight. Besides, it only impacted 4000 people, mostly pensioners, who voted NDP anyway. Besides, they would be happy not getting a bridge and would stop shouting. Stop the BCF fare increases for now, using the fuel savings due to the OPEC oil price war, claim credit and absorb the new fleet debt for now, as a subsidy, until after the election and focus on other priorities like Lower Mainland infrastructure, where Liberal votes could still be had.

This $200,000 study was a sham, a delaying tactic purely to get the Islands Trust and the NDP off the Liberal Government’s back and not making ferry management an election issue. It had defeated the previous NDP Government and could do the same with the Liberals this time, in 2017.

~ Jeremy Baker for GIBS