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Denman residents demand answers about cable ferry

AROUND 85 PEOPLE gathered at the Denman Island Seniors
AROUND 85 PEOPLE gathered at the Denman Island Seniors' Hall on Thursday night to express their opinions about the future cable ferry connecting Buckley Bay to Denman Island.
— image credit: Erin Haluschak

DENMAN ISLAND — With concerns of safety, job loss and fare prices at the forefront, BC Ferries representatives faced a crowd of around 85 people Thursday night on Denman Island about the future cable ferry project.

Mark Wilson, vice-president of engineering for the corporation, offered a 15-minute presentation to residents prior to opening the floor to questions at the Denman Island Seniors' Hall.

One of the key concerns residents had is they felt their views were not heard, said Wilson.

"I think we did hear from you," he noted, and added a list of key concerns including safety, an alternate service provider, operational availability and the input on fares.

BC Ferries has been studying feasibility of a cable ferry on the route between Denman Island West and Buckley Bay on Vancouver Island for four years, and the company says users can expect a cable ferry to replace the traditional vessel by fall of 2014, in an announcement last Friday.

Wilson said the cable ferry has been tested significantly with tank models, will operate with the same speed as the current ferry, but have a better operational availability — 99.96 per cent, or the possibility of a sailing cancellation around five times a year, out of 12,000 scheduled sailings.

He added ferry refits will be significantly less, with a schedule of one in 10 years, compared to the current one in four years, and the ferry will be home-ported at Denman Island.

Wilson explained in terms of crew, he acknowledged the size will be less then the current crew, but added "cable ferries generally operated with a crew of one or two. We will certainly crew it with three."

Transport Canada does have the final say for crew size, noted Wilson, but he said he will go above the minimum.

"Three is my minimum, but if Transport Canada says I have to do more, then I'll do more."

Wilson said the cable will allow a significant reduction of capitol spending and operating costs, which will provide an expected savings of $80 million over 40 years.

One resident raised a concern as a cable ferry has never operated in the area, he questioned how the ferry might go off-course to aid other vessels or work with assisting the coast guard in emergencies.

"I understand your concerns, but it's not the mandate of BC Ferries," replied Wilson. "The things that you're asking for is outside our mandate and come at additional costs."

Another question concerned safety, particularly if another vessel crosses in the path of the cable ferry.

"The ferry will have the ability to stop within a ship length and can stop and reverse," he explained.

Many residents were concerned about job loss, and the impact of the loss of three jobs within the small community.

"We're working closely with the crew and working with the union," said Wilson. "We want to minimize the impact and look at options; we want to try and accommodate the people who live on the Island."

Another resident quested Wilson's answer, asking how BC Ferries can justify the crew reduction.

"Why are we being made guinea pigs? You're asking us to put our trust in a boat. Our lives are more than three cables," he stated.

Wilson said the cable ferry is "not experimental technology."

"The level of analysis conducted on this cable ferry is far better than any other cable systems in the world," he added.

When questioned about the lack of government representation at community meetings, Deborah Marshall, executive director of public affairs confirmed there will be government representation at the public consultation meeting scheduled for Dec. 8.

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