City of Powell River councillors are advocates of improvements to the ferry system serving both Sunshine Coast routes.
At the May 18 committee of the whole meeting, councillors reviewed correspondence from lower Sunshine Coast politicians, advocating for increased service on the Langdale to Horseshoe Bay route.
Councillor Rob Southcott asked how the items brought up in the Sechelt correspondence would affect Powell River.
Councillor Jim Palm, who is council’s representative on the Northern Sunshine Coast Ferry Advisory Committee, said plans announced by BC Ferries to bring reservations on the Langdale to Horseshoe Bay route to 95 per cent didn’t go over well.
“The lower Sunshine Coast was really the only jurisdiction that weighed in to that and that’s where all the heat came from,” said Palm. “You see the reference to 8,500 signatures on a petition that were probably all from the lower coast, so it’s in their bailiwick. The letters are suggesting we write letters to support them in their endeavours to increase ferry sailings, and not anything to do with the plan that was being proposed.”
Palm said he will try to make Kim Barton-Bridges, chair of the local ferry advisory committee, aware of the letters. He said perhaps she would like to meet with Palm and mayor Dave Formosa to discuss the issue. He said maybe something can be done to help the lower Sunshine Coast get more sailings on the lower route, which would be of assistance to Powell River.
Councillor Cindy Elliott said there were some requests in the letter from the lower coast politicians regarding more sailings on the lower route. She said she thinks the committee of the whole needed to determine whether it was going to send a letter as per the ask.
“If we are to send a letter to BC Ferries, I’m in favour of supporting the notion of more ferries on that route; I can’t see that hurting us at all,” said Elliott. “We would also like our route that comes through to Powell River identified as a connecting route so schedules are paid attention to.”
New ferry not planned, says councillor
Councillor Maggie Hathaway said she was a participant in a meeting with BC Ferries chief executive officer Mark Collins, who said it would take five years to get a new ferry if it was ordered now. She said they have no plans of ordering a new ferry for that route.
“Another ferry there is not part of the plan,” said Hathaway.
“We need to let BC Ferries know what our needs are. We need to get together and decide what we need here. We need to look at what our needs are and submit them separately.”
Formosa said when the ferry reservations announcement came out, some of the texts, phone calls and emails that came in were incredible.
“People were very upset to hear they have to make a reservation to get on the ferry and not be able to just show up,” said Formosa. “I guess that backlash got heard. Councillor Palm’s idea of talking with the chair of the committee is a good one and maybe some recommendations could come out of there that would be beneficial to Powell River. We could present them, representing our own folks.”
More sailings benefit Powell River
He said Powell River could also help lower coast governments because more sailings would be of benefit to Powell River.
Formosa said he thought when it was decided the BC government wasn’t building a bridge that BC Ferries would be building new ferries for the Langdale to Horseshoe Bay run and having a ferry every hour.
Hathaway said council probably needed to find that out for sure.
Councillor George Doubt, chair of the committee of the whole, said he thought that out of the more than 8,000 signatures on the petition, he would not be surprised if a significant number of people from Powell River and qathet Regional District were signatories.
“It certainly was of interest to a lot of people I talked to,” said Doubt.
He said letters lower coast representatives have written to the minister of transportation and infrastructure don’t mention anything about the service and connection challenges to Powell River.
“What I’d like to see us do is ask the ferry advisory committee to consult with people in our area about what we need to make sure our voices are heard,” said Doubt. “Regardless of whether we get new ferries or not, there is still the question of how you connect Powell River and the lower Sunshine Coast and Lower Mainland, and how you get back in a reasonable time in a day.
“There’s the matter of how you transport people for medical purposes and our local ferry advisory committee chiming in and getting the community involvement and talking to people about what they’d like to see happen is important.”
Coronavirus complicates meeting
Palm said COVID-19 has impacted the ferry advisory committee’s ability to meet. He said that has also impacted the ability to meet with constituents in terms of consultation. He added that when the reservation pilot was announced, there was an announcement to increase the summer sailing runs from Langdale, and after it was cancelled, BC Ferries made a follow-up announcement that it would not be increasing summer sailings because of coronavirus.
“When we draft a letter, hopefully, it will be in support of more sailings,” said Palm. “We will have the ability in that letter to voice our concerns on consultation, which is lacking in Powell River, and also advocating for a better system for Powell River.”
The committee voted to receive the letter and follow up with reaching out to the chair of the local ferry advisory committee.