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Some Denman Island residents protesting upgrades to BC Ferries terminal

As improvements begin at BC Ferries’ Gravelly Bay terminal on Denman Island, some residents feel the decision to upgrade is being made too soon.

BC Ferries says the upgrades are being made to help ease congestion and is expected to take around three months to complete. The upgrades follow community engagement sessions in 2017 between residents of Denman Island and Hornby Island.

An issue that some Denman Island residents have is the removal of around 100 trees to make way for an expanded holding lot and lanes.

Protesters arrived on Feb. 13, the day the construction was set to begin, and no progress was made by crews. Friends of Denman Forests spokesperson C Urquhart says the main stressor is loss of habitat with the expansion.

“We’re concerned, it’s a habitat, it’s an ecosystem, there’s Douglas firs, there’s streams, there’s eagles nesting nearby,” said Urquhart. “Not only that but for people who have to wait in Gravelly Bay, which can sometimes be two or three ferry waits. Without those trees there it would be unbearable on a big piece of tarmac with no trees. People would bake in the sun.

“Not only that, it’s the natural beauty of the place. That’s what the people are coming here for.”

Urquhart adds the group feels that it is BC Ferries’ responsibility to use larger boats to transport vehicles and cut the lines down, pointing to rumours that a larger boat will be used this summer.

The group would like to see how much a bigger boat helps before BC Ferries goes through with the changes to the terminal.

In a statement to Vista Radio, BC Ferries says the ongoing protests have kept construction of the terminal from proceeding. They add this is despite community consultations in 2017/18.

According to engagement highlights, the ferry line held public engagement events in November 2017 at the Hornby Island Community Hall and at the Denman Island Activity Centre.

The findings of an online survey found the community was interested in developing both terminals while maintaining as much of the green space and natural surrounding as possible. BC Ferries says the community liked the idea of expanding the holding compound to improve traffic containment and reduce roadway traffic.

The public engagement session had over 20 residents attend for Denman Island, according to BC Ferries. According to the census from 2016, Denman Island had around 1,160 residents.  

Forty-five per cent of respondents to the session and online survey chose the third of three options, according to BC Ferries. While the options cannot be seen on the BC Ferries website anymore, draft concepts from the development plan show option 3 having a compromise in the amount of development for the terminal.  

BC Ferries says the community also asked for larger vessels to accommodate the route, and without the larger holding compound current safety risks are heightened.

Urquhart says other systems have been proposed such as having a reservation system for people to travel to Hornby, limiting the number of people who can come through Buckley Bay.

She adds she feels the ferry company is not concerned with the issues of Denman Island and is not listening to their requests.

“They act like Denman Island doesn’t matter to them, all they care about is getting people to Hornby Island,” said Urquhart. “That’s where they’re making their money so they’re not really listening to us, we’re just the highway to Hornby.

“But we do matter and those trees matter.”

BC Ferries says they are currently looking at timelines, cost and the impending nesting season along with the community’s “apparent divide on the future of the Denman Island East project.”

“It’s unfortunate that the community is unable to reach consensus on this project and that one group’s views is creating further delays,” said BC Ferries.

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