Denman cable ferry going ahead in spite of islanders’ protests

Despite "overwhelming" opposition to a cable ferry from Denman Island residents, BC Ferries says the vessel will be running in two years.

Despite “overwhelming” opposition to the idea of a cable ferry from Denman Island residents, BC Ferries says the new vessel will be up and running in two years.

“Certainly on Denman there’s been overwhelming apprehension of, and opposition to, the cable ferry,” says Denman-Hornby Ferry Advisory Committee chair Tony Law. “I think people feel like the present service is working well, you know, why mess with it, particularly when there isn’t a cable ferry at this length operating anywhere else in the world — so they feel like there’s some degree of risk and uncertainty.”

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

BC Ferries president and CEO Mike Corrigan says the company listened to Islanders’ concerns and he’s sure the cable ferry will work for the route.

“We went out and did significantly more engineering analysis and testing before we made the final decision,” says Corrigan. “I’m completely confident that we can provide the same level of service from a safety and operational liability standpoint as we do with the current ferry.”

The new vessel will hold 50 cars, as the current vessel does. BC Ferries will build two new docks designed for the cable ferry, and it expects to finish the tender process for construction of the vessel and docks by this summer.

BC Ferries cites major cost savings as a big reason for the change — $19 million could be saved over the life of the assets calculated on discounted net present value basis. Lower fuel costs, maintenance costs, labour costs and operating costs are expected.

“That means that fares are going to be $19 million less than they otherwise would be,” says Corrigan, while acknowledging any savings would be spread across the entire BC Ferries system. “If we can provide an equivalent level of service at $19 million in savings, we should be doing it.”

However, many Denman Islanders are concerned that the level of service may not be the same, especially during stormy weather.

Corrigan says BC Ferries conducted further research on weather in the area because of these concerns. He notes the company collected one year worth of its own weather data, and studied 40 years of weather data overall.

“Basically, we designed the ferry to a condition that’s never existed from a weather standpoint yet in Baynes Sound,” he says, adding the cable ferry will be able to operate in 55 knots of sustained windspeed. “If we were ever to get above 55 knots, the traditional ferry that’s there right now wouldn’t be sailing either.”

Job loss is another major concern, according to Law.

The current ferry operates with six crew on board at a time but the cable ferry would likely operate with just three, though Corrigan notes Transport Canada has the final say on the numbers.

“Some of them would have to relocate but they wouldn’t lose their jobs, and there’s a number of employees, as I understand it, are getting ready to retire, and we would work with them on a retirement plan,” says Corrigan.

BC Ferries was going to hire a contractor to provide the service but decided against it, so it will still be operated by BC Ferries.

The current dock at Buckley Bay will be kept for emergency use, but after about five years the current dock on the Denman side is expected to come down due to age; a traditional ferry won’t be able to dock on the Denman side after the current dock is gone.

Law points out that five years gives time for any growing pains with the cable ferry to surface before a traditional vessel cannot be docked on Denman. But he also says future ferry refits — which usually see a temporary ferry on the route — are a “bit of a worry.”

“It would be hard for a conventional vessel to replace the cable ferry once the new docks are in place,” he says. “That is a concern, you know, what’ll happen when those refits take place, particularly for Denman because there’s a lot of people that commute.”

Refit work on the ferry is expected to happen every 10 years instead of every four as is the case now, and Corrigan says when that happens, a traditional vehicle vessel will run from Buckley Bay all the way around the south tip of Denman Island to the East dock on the island. He says foot passenger service would likely be offered on the regular route during refits.

BC Ferries representatives will be at the Denman Island Seniors Hall from 7 to 9 p.m. for a public information meeting this Thursday.

Law says he believes BC Ferries was being “squeezed” on both sides on the issue of the cable ferry.

“I think BC Ferries is in a squeeze because on the one hand they’re hearing resistance to innovations from Hornby and Denman Islanders, but on the other hand they’re really being squeezed by the Province and the (BC Ferry) Commissioner to look at innovations and savings,” he says.

writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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