Fixed-link study: "everything is on the table"

On Friday, the province announced it would fund a study looking into the possibility of connection between the mainland and Sunshine Coast. The Undercurrent talks to MLA Jordan Sturdy on what this might mean for Bowen Island

Everything is on the table when it comes to a study into the possibility of a fixed link between the mainland and Sunshine Coast, says Jordan Sturdy.

But the table can just as easily be cleared, the MLA  for West Vancouver-Sea to Sky said in a telephone interview on Saturday morning.

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“We may find out that the naysayers are right — [the Howe Sound] is too big, too deep, too whatever to even begin to consider any type of crossing but let’s get a little more information… about what’s potentially realistic and what’s not,” he told the Undercurrent.

While Bowen Islanders may instantly think of the possibility of hopscotch bridges from the coast to Bowen Island to Keats Island to Gibsons — an idea that’s been bandied about for years — Sturdy says the study will also look at the possibility of road access. “There are people who ride bicycles from Squamish to Sechelt. There’s a two-kilometre hike-a-bike but it’s otherwise doable.”

There’s also a group called the Third Crossing Society which is proposing a 173km road from Powell River to the Sea to Sky highway south of Whistler. Other groups point to fixed links in Norway, where the fjords have a similar topography to the Howe Sound.

Transportation minister Todd Stone announced the survey on Friday morning. Sturdy says the next step is to draft the terms of reference for the study and then put out a request for proposals from companies that want to take on the task of assessing the viability of the various options. His hope is that the selection of the firm could be done before Christmas.

The province has not yet decided what approach it will take next: should it let the successful firm come up with the costs and engineering capabilities and make a decision to continue or end the process then and there, or should public consultation be part of the mix right from the start.

And from his own family’s conversations around the dinner table, Sturdy knows the public will have many, often differing, points of view.

“My first swim in the ocean was in Roberts Creek when I was two months old,” he says. His family has long lived on the Sunshine Coast — his father owns the general store in Roberts Creek — and “I have heard this discussion my whole life.”

However, as with the study about the possibility of a fixed link to Gabriola Island, he thinks it’s better to have concrete information on which to base decisions. (He also realizes that having information will in no way sway the opinions of some people.)

“I think the discussion is healthy and having better information is important,” he says, adding that includes understanding the impact on existing infrastructure.

Sturdy has been asked to help with the process which will include liaising with community groups, municipalities and First Nations to assess their interests and concerns. That will likely not start to take place until next year.

On Tuesday afternoon, Bowen Island council met with Islands Trust trustees to discuss topics of common concern. One of the issues raised is the ongoing study about a fixed link to Gabriola Island. One trustee from the island said she agreed to the study on the basis of “What’s wrong with getting more information?” but said islanders became very concerned when they learned the study cost $200,000 at a time when service cuts were being made.

The Bridge Free Salish Sea petition has 2,000 signatures.

Study results were supposed to be ready this past February but everyone’s still waiting.

At the meeting, it was felt that any discussion about a fixed link that involved Bowen Island was “pie in the sky.”

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