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Not everyone on board with cable ferry suggestion
BC Ferries is proposing to link Denman Island and Buckley Bay by way of a cable ferry — which would set a world record and possibly drive away some of the island's residents, according to the local NDP provincial candidate.
Before a crowd of about 200 people on Denman, the corporation recently announced a plan to install a cable service that would stretch 2.2 kilometres across the water.
"That, I think, caught a lot of folks off guard because there's been no consultation. Folks are feeling really quite helpless," said Comox Valley provincial NDP candidate Kassandra Dycke, who attended a second meeting Tuesday at Denman. BC Ferries commissioner Gordon Macatee, who is consulting with coastal communities about the ferry service in general, also attended.
Some Denman residents said they might pack up and leave if the cable ferry goes through.
"For a lot of people there it feels like the beginning of the end of the island as they know it," Dycke said, noting residents started the Denman ferry service in 1923. The Ministry of Highways took it over in 1954.
Dycke said the cable idea had been forwarded two years ago, at which time residents asked for more information but are now being told the service is a done deal.
BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall said the corporation has been keeping residents and the Ferry Advisory Committee apprised of the situation.
The company intends to launch the service by November 2013. It will be out to tender shortly.
"While everything is trending towards the cable ferry, our board of directors will make the final decision next spring," Marshall said.
If they give it the go-ahead, a cable ferry will be constructed to replace the Quinitsa that runs between Denman and Buckley Bay on the big island.
"They (cable ferries) consume less fuel than a conventional vessel," Marshall said, noting cost savings would "mitigate future tariff increases."
A cable ferry would be the same size as the Quinitsa, which would be moved to Cortes Island, which in turn would prevent BC Ferries from having to replace the Tenaka. Sailing times would be the same.
"The intention is to look for an alternate service provider," Marshall said.
The Coastal Ferry Act requires BC Ferries to contract out if someone else can provide the same level of service at a lower cost. Nevertheless, the corporation would be ultimately responsible for ensuring service is provided, Marshall said.
A crew of six operates the Quinitsa during a run while a cable ferry would require three people. The entire Quinitsa crew consists of 33 BC Ferries employees, 15 of whom live on Denman while 18 reside on Vancouver Island, Marshall said. Cutbacks could be through attrition, though she noted some employees might be reassigned to other routes.
Marshall said BC Ferries would look at moving the point of assembly to Buckley Bay, which would be easier in terms of crewing and fueling at night.
"We actually have more crew on that ship who live on Vancouver Island, and they commute to work," she said.
There are 11 cable ferries in B.C. and 67 in Canada. Marshall said the cable ferry operation is "proven technology." Dycke, however, said a number of retired captains questioned the design and said a crew of three could not safely evacuate the vessel in an emergency.
"I'm all for leaner and greener, but leaner and greener has to work," Dycke said, adding the cutting of crews will leave about 21 families without a job. "This really doesn't sound like it's going to work well, and I'm not satisfied that they've (BC Ferries) done their homework.
"There are multiple concerns about the service regarding its reliability and its safety," she added. "If they go ahead and build it, this will be the longest cable ferry in the world."
The Denman-Buckley crossing would be one of two saltwater cable ferry operations in Canada. The other is a 600-metre crossing in contained water in Nova Scotia.
"This is an open water crossing, and it's 2.2 kilometres," Dycke said, adding the original proposal said cable ferry service is deemed viable up to .9 km.
She also notes the cable ferry will have a payload of 50 cars and 125 foot passengers. The next closest in Scandinavia allows for 40 vehicles and 30 foot passengers.
"Again, they're experimenting with payload," she said. "No accommodation has been made for commercial vehicles. I think the biggest concern for Denman residents was with regards to emergency services."
Another bone of contention is the environmental assessment. According to Dycke, BC Ferries ignored residents but consulted First Nations, the regional district and those in the shellfish industry. The assessment passed, but she said no consideration was given to the potential impact on sea mammals.
"This is an important migratory route for whales and sea lions," Dycke said. "There's some perhaps incomplete investigation."