St. Mary Lake at sunset (Corey Bullock/Kimberley Bulletin file)

Kimberley residents concerned with use of motorized boats on St. Mary Lake, River

St. Mary Lake and River remain under the jurisdiction of Transport Canada.

Concerns about the use of motorized boats on the St. Mary Lake, River and its tributaries have been a topic of discussion in Kimberley recently, with one Kimberley resident citing concerns about safety, noise pollution and wildlife.

The resident, who asked not to be named, says that St. Mary Lake is a sanctuary for both humans and animals and that although there is no speed limit on the Lake, one is needed.

Earlier this year, the Regional District of East Kootenay announced that they would be entering into an agreement with a private property owner to create St. Mary Lake Regional Park. While the land remains the property of Mt. Evans Land Company Ltd., the Licence of Occupation permits the RDEK to operate the designated area as a day-use public park with rules consistent with other RDEK park facilities.

READ MORE: St. Mary Lake residents question proposed park

Since the creation of the new park, the RDEK has put in designated fire pits, picnic tables and other improvements to the shoreline of the lake.

Loree Duczek, Communications Manager for the RDEK, explained that the lake and river aren’t within the jurisdiction of the RDEK, only the small park. Therefore, the rules and regulations surrounding the use of boats remains under the jurisdiction of Transport Canada.

John Bergenske, Conservation Director for Wildsight, says that the use of jet boats on rivers and tributaries can impact the environment and be a threat to human safety.

“I constantly hear stories of close calls – jet boats coming around the corner when people are paddling or rafting there,” said Bergenske. “Our [Wildsight’s] concerns are on the impacts to the wildlife. During the spring especially, these boats can have an impact on the birds trying to nest, especially because they come out of nowhere. The biggest factor is the disturbance on the nesting wildlife. There are both environmental and safety concerns, but banning those kinds of uses is extremely difficult.”

Sonja Seher, Wildsight’s Vice President for Kimberley Cranbrook, (at the time of this interview, Seher was the Interim Branch Manager for Kimberley/Cranbrook) said that “Wildsight and the community’s hands are tied” because it’s a federal waterway.

“This issue has definitely come up before and there has been more motor activity in the past five years,” said Seher.

Seher referred to the Columbia Wetlands Complex, which received protection on a federal level after 16 years of efforts from multiple stakeholders.

The Columbia Wetlands are recognized internationally as an ecological importance; the source of the largest river flowing to the Pacific Ocean in North America, the Columbia River.

As it states on the Wildsight website, the Wetlands’ rich ecosystem forms the life support system for hundreds of thousands of birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, and freshwater to surrounding communities.

“The precedent setting federal regulation, jointly requested by the BC Ministry of the Environment and local environmental organization, Wildsight, restricts boats over 20 horse power on the main channel of the upper Columbia River and its tributaries, from Fairmont Hot Springs to Donald (excluding Lake Windermere),” reads the article from October, 2016. “The first two parts of the regulation were passed in 2009, banning motor vessels from the wetland portion of the Columbia Wetland Wildlife Management Area and eliminating waterskiing and wake boarding from the main channel of the upper Columbia River.”

Seher says that since waterways are governed by Transport Canada, it is very hard to get restrictions in place.

“At the end of the day they [local waterways] are not on the radar for Transport Canada,” said Seher. “That’s not to say that there are no issues, however. Transport Canada has to guarantee that these waterways are transport pathways. They just don’t have this important wildlife area designation.”

READ MORE: New park to be established at St. Mary Lake

Bergenske says speed limits can help, but are hard to enforce.

“There are some places with a speed limit, where you need to slow down to 10 kilometres per hour, for example within 100 metres of the shoreline on lakes,” said Bergenske. “However, it is extremely difficult to enforce that speed limit other than with peer pressure.

“We have discussed this issue and we’ve not been able to make any headway on the St. Mary or Kootenay River. It’s a giant task going forward and to get the cooperation of the province there needs to be an extremely high environmental value. You’ve got a strong case in terms of human safety.”

Bergenske recommends that concerned residents petition the federal government for control of motorized vessels, although it is a long and difficult process.

“The next step would be to go to the local MP and make the case there, and start writing letters to the Ministry of Environment,” said Bergenske. “This kind of ground swell event is what creates change.”

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