Members of the Bridge-Free Salish Sea Collective, Islands Trust Trustee Heather Nicholas, and Regional District of Nanaimo Director Howard Houle are delivering a petition to the BC Legislature against fixed links connecting islands in the Salish Sea.
The petition will be presented by NDP MLAs Claire Trevena and Doug Routley, on Monday April 13th, in the afternoon session. A press conference will follow on the steps of the legislature at 2:30pm.
The Collective has collected more than 2,000 signatures, roughly 1,600 from Gabriola and Mudge Island residents.
The prospect of bridges in the Salish Sea has been contentious for decades. The debate was fuelled recently by Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone agreeing to fund a feasibility study, to assess linking Gabriola and Mudge Islands to Vancouver Island.
Without speaking with stakeholders, such as the Islands Trust, First Nations, Nanaimo City Council, the Regional District of Nanaimo, or island inhabitants, Minister Stone went ahead with the study at a cost to taxpayers of $200,000.
Clearly, many island residents are opposed to bridging the Gulf Islands. However, the current ferry fares and reduced schedules are unmanageable. The Bridge-Free Salish Sea Collective is demanding that Minister Stone ‘fix the ferries and ban the bridges’.
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The Bridge-Free Salish Sea Collective is here to stand behind the Islands Trust’s position barring fixed links to the Trust Islands in general, and against a bridge to Gabriola via Mudge Island in particular.
We believe that if Todd Stone, Minister of Transportation, is willing to finance a bridge feasibility study costing $200,000, based on the signatures of 609 Gabriolans, he should be eager to listen to more than 2,000 British Columbians, who firmly and publicly state they do not want bridges in the Salish Sea.
The problems with coastal transportation stem from the Liberal government’s failed experiment in running BC Ferries as a private, for-profit corporation. The Liberal government does not appear to recognize that the ferries constitute a marine highway, as vital to the economy, well-being and way of life of coastal communities as the Sea-to-Sky Highway is to Whistler.
But – there is no doubt that bridges will harm the islands’ culture, environment, and economy.
Therefore, on behalf of more than 2,000 British Columbians including approximately 1,600 Gabriolans and Mudge Islanders, The Bridge-Free Salish Sea Collective is calling on Minister Todd Stone and the BC Liberals to fix the ferries and ban the bridges.
Fix the Ferries
Coastal ferry users deserve the same transportation support as is received by other British Columbians. Coastal ferry users pay 100 per cent of BC Ferries’ operating budget – a percentage transit users are not expected to pay on any other public transportation system, such as buses and skytrains.
Although coastal communities comprise 20 percent of BC’s population, and provide 36 percent of her GDP, they receive only six percent of the transportation budget.
Inland BC Ferries are free, even while roads provide an alternate route. Coastal ferry users have no alternative but to travel by ferry.
Federal subsidies are many times greater for east coast ferry users. We call upon Minister Stone and Premier Clark to rectify this inequity at the federal level.
Ban the Bridges
The Bridge-Free Salish Sea Collective says ‘ban the bridges’ because we believe bridges will destroy our ability to preserve and protect the islands on behalf of their inhabitants and all British Columbians.
The Gulf Islands are celebrated for their artists, writers, poets, musicians, sculptors, potters, organic farmers and jewelers. This dazzling creativity is a direct result of the isolation afforded by a ferry trip.
By definition, Islanders have the space to be artistically creative. They are self-reliant and independent. In addition, they are ‘contained’ by the islands’ watery borders. This gives rise to a kind of creative ‘starter-culture’.
This ‘starter-culture’ counteracts the proliferation of sameness so evident in much of the modern world. Islanders do not invite the same old franchises, or build subdivisions with row upon row of identical houses.
Creativity and an independent spirit have led Gabriolans, for example, to develop their own public transportation system, fundraise for and build the Gabriola Medical Clinic, and develop a 26-acre parcel of land that is the first in Canada to be zoned a ‘community commons’.
That is why people make their homes and build their lives here and why tourists come to visit.
‘The Gulf Islands are 20 minutes and a world away from everywhere else.’
Proposals connecting Gabriola to Vancouver Island have suggested two bridges: one across Dodd’s Narrows, one of the loveliest and most beloved spots on Mudge Island, and another across False Narrows to the El Verano/Brickyard Beach area of Gabriola.
Two bridges would impact important feeding zones for whales, sea lions, herring and other marine life. Further, they would harm one of the most prolific clam beds in BC, lying along the shores of False Narrows.
Bridges in these locations would impact negatively important First Nations archeological sites.
Currently, a single ferry deposits Gabriola commuters in the heart of Nanaimo. A bridge would take people to the outskirts of the city, requiring a 40-minute drive in individual automobiles.
Consider the noise and air pollution. The impact on the quiet south side of Gabriola would be bad, but on tiny Mudge Island it would be both inescapable and unbearable.
In another vein, the bio-diversity in the Gulf Islands is extremely rare. The woods abound with plants, trees, insects, fungi, birds and animals. The beaches are throbbing with life. Much of the rest of the world is not like this. For this reason alone, the Gulf Islands are worth preserving and protecting, rather like the Galapagos Islands.
Gabriola Island has a range of shops and businesses that survive because taking quick trips off-island to pick up an item is not possible. A bridge would increase the competition for locals exponentially, harm or drive out businesses, such as the full-service grocery store, the nurseries, the building supply store, the animal feed store, restaurants, pubs and retail outlets, to name a few.
A bridge would no longer deliver Islanders to downtown Nanaimo. How would that area fare with considerably less walking trade?
Gabriola has garden shows, arts tours, a summer theatre festival, and numerous music events. Rising ferry fares and fewer runs are putting a dent in these endeavors.
A bridge might mean the end of Gabriola’s elementary school. A bus to Cedar would be cheaper, but would rip a huge hole in this community.
What risks would high school students face getting home on public transportation if they missed their school bus or wanted to stay late for an after-school activity?
What foreign wildlife might cross that bridge?
Would crime increase with an easy escape route?
How would a bridge hold up in an earthquake? The island would be completely isolated if the bridge collapsed.
A bridge would be permanent no matter how much some might regret its presence in the future.
Real island living – which includes the fact of separation and isolation from other centres – promotes diversity, creativity, ingenuity and self-reliance.
The islands’ environment and bio-diversity are unmatched – worth protecting.
The Bridge-Free Salish Sea collective believes that these features are included in the ‘unique amenities’ the Islands Trust Act was designed to preserve and protect.
The Gulf Islands are under constant pressure to develop. If we don’t hold the line, they will be lost to urban sprawl. The bridge would be a breach. The ferry system is part of that line.