Columbia River boating aids on the chopping block

Navigational aids that mark the hazardous Columbia River waterway from Castlegar to Trail may soon be a thing of the past.

Navigational aids that mark the hazardous Columbia River waterway from Castlegar to Trail may soon be a thing of the past.

As part of an ongoing review of aids to navigate the Columbia River, the Canadian Coast Guard is proposing to discontinue 11 navigational aids that stretch from Hugh Keenleyside Dam near Castlegar to the Waneta Dam near the U.S. border.

This recent announcement has one councillor scratching his head and asking, “Why now?”

“The aids help map people down the river through the safest route,” said Coun. Gord DeRosa, member of the Columbia River committee.

“It was a godsend to the City of Trail when they first went up 25 years ago.”

The navigational aids, called day beacons, are large painted plywood pieces of various shapes embedded along the shore of the Columbia, to assist both motorized and non-motorized vessels a safe passage down the river.

Since September 2009, all boaters are required to have a “pleasure craft operator card,” which is boating license, in order to operate a powered watercraft.

Knowledge of what each navigational aid represents is required for a boat license, which further supports DeRosa’s query of why the Coast Guard wants to dismantle the markers this year.

“So they have trained all of Canada to read these signs, now they are taking them away,” he explained. “This doesn’t make any sense.”

Kevin Carrigan, Canadian Coast Guard superintendent for navigational aids, said that a public meeting was held at the Best Western and Columbia Hotel on March 21, as part of the ongoing review process.

“We are obligated to look at all our aids to navigation and this year it just so happens to be the time we looked at the Columbia River,” he said.

Carrigan said the review team looked at the passage of the river from Hugh Keenleyside Dam to Waneta, and how the area was being used by boaters.

“What we found is that not a lot of boaters transit the river in that region, “he explained. “They usually stick close to the boat launch.”

In addition, the review team determined that the navigational aids were not “functioning properly,” which means the signs did not mark dangerous areas

“In this case, we found the markers were not being used and not marking the hazards appropriately,” said Carrigan. “Which is why we made the decision to remove them.”

There is one more aspect to losing river markings that could have an economic impact to Greater Trail.

An initiative to reestablish a port of call in Trail was presented by the river committee at the Canadian Columbia River Forum in March.

“This idea was met with applause and positive feedback,” said DeRosa, speaker at the forum, which took place at Lake Roosevelt in Spokane.

A port of call would mean American boaters could travel with ease up the Columbia River, giving tourism a boost to the Greater Trail economy as well as the Kootenay Region.

“We have a great spot to travel the free flowing Columbia from the border to Castlegar,” said DeRosa. “Its a wonderful thing to do.  But without the aids, especially around Rock Island, the current can be devastating.”

Carrigan did confirm that six “ranges” will remain in place along the shore of the river between Castlegar and Waneta. A range consists of two fixed marks situated some distance apart and at different elevations. When both marks are in line, the navigator is on the recommended track.