Do we want a high-speed connection to the Sunshine Coast?

Photo: adina*raul, flickr creative commons

Photo: adina*raul, flickr creative commons

Would you like to drive to the Sunshine Coast? Do you want to go island hopping… in your car?

It’s a novel concept, and it would certainly be faster, more convenient and affordable than taking the ferry, if you could just pack into your car and go anywhere you like. High costs, strict timetables and busy, over-crowded cabins are no one’s idea of a good time. Paying that much to B.C. Ferries hurts the wallet and the sensibilities, but we must also consider the implications a roadway like this would have on communities, wildlife in general, and marine life, in particular.  

This September, the B.C. provincial government proposed to do a study that would look into the feasibility of connecting Metro Vancouver, Bowen Island, Gambier Island and Keats Island to the Sunshine Coast. The government is looking at existing examples of such connections in Norway, which use a combination of bridges and underwater tunnels to link fjords (a deep, narrow and elongated sea or lakedrain) that have a similar geography to our own coast. According to the Bowen Island Undercurrent, this is an idea that’s been “bandied about for years.”

Clearly this is a sensitive subject for all involved. In a government statement, relayed in part by Vancity Buzz, the B.C. Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone stressed that “highway access is important for attracting tourism and investment.”

Meanwhile, residents of the Sunshine Coast and local islands have varying and passionate views on the subject. When asked his opinion on the matter, Jeff Willis, the Executive Director of Camp Fircom on Gambier Island, stressed that an inter-island connector would be taking a step backwards. “It destroys the idea of preserving and conserving the Howe Sound region...a bridge is the most invasive and intrusive thing you could place in Howe Sound.” He was very passionate about how such a connector would affect the way of life on the coast: “Howe Sound is not a commodity, it is a lifestyle, it’s like a big park.”

Local MLA for West Vancouver-Sea to Sky Jordan Sturdy has already heard many differing opinions on connecting Vancouver to the Sunshine Coast and islands in between, but assured the Bowen Island Undercurrent that the government is simply doing a study and that more knowledge on the subject can only be a good thing.

That being said, a high-speed connection on the Sunshine Coast and coastal islands would change the very nature of the community and life people have built there. The Coast is a relaxed and laid-back community. People retire there and maintain summer cottages to escape the hustle and bustle of the city while still staying close to our beautiful coastal waters.

Bridges and tunnels would seriously impact biological species in the Sound. The coastal islands and waters in Howe Sound are finally being revitalized, nine years after the Woodfibre Pulp Mill was closed in 2006. Pods of dolphins and whales are being spotted regularly because of the regrowth of the entire Howe Sound ecosystem.

The construction of a Sunshine Coast connector, however, would create huge amounts of noise pollution. Whales and dolphins are highly sensitive to underwater noise and need a quiet environment to communicate with each other and hunt. The whales have come back because the salmon have returned, and the salmon have returned because of the rebirth of the herring population.

Herring is a delicate species with vulnerable young that rely on a secure environment to reach maturity, too much disturbance could damage their population and by extension affect the entire system. The Howe Sound ecosystem is delicate, and we are now at a critical juncture; we must tread carefully in our waters.

On a larger scale, more vehicles driving up and down the coast would lead to more fossil fuel consumption and increased carbon dioxide emissions. This would pollute the air all over our coastal rain forest and the water system, too.   

We cannot only think of convenience when we consider this issue. Of course a high-speed connection would be convenient, but at what cost? The study will focus on the financial cost, but what will be the expense to the natural environment? The long term health of the ecosystem should not be sacrificed.

If you are concerned about the connector, you can write to West Vancouver Sea to Sky MLA Jordan Sturdy, the provincial Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone, or your local MLA. At this point in the process, feedback and public input is helpful and allows the government to gauge how much support the project has. This place is our home, this project will affect our future, and we have the power to make our voices heard.