Looking through a wire panel fence on Nelson’s waterfront pathway, walkers become spectators at a major building site on the shore of Kootenay Lake just east of the Nelson bridge.
The workers building the new $63-million Kootenay Lake ferry make a point of interacting with the public on the pathway. The project’s safety officer Lyle Nesbitt says people are very curious about the project.
“We’ve had a really good connection with all of the people on the walking path,” says Nesbitt. “Being able to communicate with people that are asking general questions and wanting to know what’s happening next, and being able to have that connection, it’s gone really, really well.”
Nesbitt says he has talked to children who want to know how they can become welders and help build the ferry.
He says many passersby need to know that the structure currently on the shore is not the ferry, but a dry dock in which the ferry will eventually be built. And that the site will not be the ferry landing, but that the ferry is destined to run between Balfour and Kootenay Bay to replace the soon-to-be-retired MV Balfour, built in 1954.
The new 55-car ferry, constructed by Western Pacific Marine Ltd., will be ready to sail in 2023. It will be electric-ready, built with both diesel and electric motors, running on diesel until 2030 when shore power will be in place.
Nesbitt says it’s the first inland electric ferry to be built in Canada.
Once the dry dock is ready, the ferry will be assembled with modules built in Edmonton and trucked to Nelson starting early in 2022.
The construction site employs 30 tradespeople, all welders, plus support staff. But that number will grow, says Nesbitt.
“Everybody here is from from the Kootenays and we’re hoping to continue that. It just makes sense to draw on local talent. And so far, it’s been working pretty well.”
One of those workers is apprentice welder Candace Green, who just completed the welding program at Selkirk College.
“I like the crew, and management is excellent – they are on top of their game. It is nice to work locally and know that I get to improve myself every day,” she says. “I’m really fortunate, super grateful, especially being straight out of school.”
In February, Nelson City Council approved the use of the site for the ferry construction, imposing some conditions about noise and traffic in response to public concerns.
Kevin Thorsen, construction manager at the site, told the Nelson Star that early in the project the company has responded to a complaint about the angle of the lighting at the project, and solved the problem immediately.
He said when he meets members of the public he gives them his card, asking them to call him if they have any problems with the project.
“We’re borrowing the land, basically,” he says, “and we don’t want to tread on anybody here. All we’re here to do is build a boat.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated the ferry will run from Balfour to Crawford Bay. The ferry will actually travel from Balfour to Kootenay Bay.