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Full service resumes

Dearth of replacement vessels strands vehicles creates confusion
Laura Walz

North Island Princess resumed service on the Texada Island-Powell River route Wednesday afternoon, June 22, from Blubber Bay.

Deborah Marshall, BC Ferries’ spokesperson, said the North Island Princess started sea trials Tuesday afternoon and continued Wednesday morning. The problems the vessel had with its steering mechanism appear to be fixed.

Texada relies on water taxi service

Texada Island residents have been coping with cancelled and late sailings since the regular BC Ferries vessel on the route came back from a major retrofit.

The North Island Princess returned to service on June 10 and there have been intermittent problems with the steering gear since then, said Deborah Marshall, BC Ferries’ spokesperson. “It was completely rebuilt during the refit,” she said. “It came back to us as a sealed unit.”

BC Ferries has arranged water taxi service for passengers and a tug and barge for commercial customers on Tuesday, June 21.

Water taxi service started on Wednesday, June 15 and again on Sunday, June 19. Marshall said full service wouldn’t be restored until Thursday.

The water taxi operates in shuttle mode and doesn’t follow the published schedule for the route.

Since the steering problems started, the unit has been disassembled, Marshall said during a phone interview on Monday, June 20. “They’re doing troubleshooting right now,” she said. “Technicians will be on site a little bit later today.”

Because the water taxi service is for passengers only, some Texada Island residents have had their vehicles stranded in Powell River. There has also been confusion about where the water taxi is docking.

Marshall said the water taxi is providing service from Van Anda. The Texada Island Inn has a shuttle bus for its customers and Marshall said it has been “quite helpful” in transporting people. On the Powell River side, BC Ferries has been using taxis, rental cars and the Handy Dart to assist people.

BC Ferries is providing water taxi service because it doesn’t have another vessel that can fill in for the North Island Princess, Marshall said. The usual replacement vessel, the Tachek, is providing service between Quadra and Cortes islands while the regular vessel on that route, the Tenaka, is away for about six weeks for regularly scheduled maintenance. “Unfortunately, it’s in a state where it’s disassembled and couldn’t be put back together quickly,” she said.

The Nimpkish, a smaller vessel, is tied up in Blubber Bay, but Marshall said that vessel doesn’t fit into the dock at either Westview or Blubber Bay. The Nimpkish is just basically parked there, she added.

BC Ferries is going through its refit season right now, Marshall said, and every vessel needs to go in for maintenance.

The company did a dock fit with the Queen of Burnaby on Tuesday, to see whether it will fit into Blubber Bay. If it does, the company will organize a triangle run if needed, Marshall added.

Chuck Childress, chair of Texada Action Now (TAN), said the Nimpkish has run on the Texada route in the past. “BC Ferries always had a policy that all vessels fit all docks,” he said. “Reasonable, common-sense planning, especially when you have old vessels, should be that you have an emergency replacement vessel ready to go.”

While BC Ferries is arranging for perhaps the Queen of Burnaby to go into Blubber Bay, the company should have addressed the issue last week when the North Island Princess was out of service over two days, Childress added. “Even if the technician fixes the problem today, are we, two days down the road, not going to have ferry service again?” Childress asked. “That’s what it has been.”

How do islanders or tourists plan anything, Childress asked. “BC Ferries is killing our economy with their fare increases,” he said. “When you get an unreliability factor thrown in there. . .”

If a tourist had arrived on Texada on the weekend, planned to leave with their motor home or vehicle on Sunday or Monday and can’t, are they ever going to come back, Childress asked. “Then they go back and tell a horror story about being stuck on this island,” he said.