Nanaimo adds urgency to passenger ferry plan

Nanaimo is issuing a formal request for proposals to find a company to run daily foot passenger ferry service to and from Vancouver by late 2016.

It isn’t good news to Island Ferry Service Ltd., which is striving to line up a final $21 million in financing by the end of this month for its $70-million endeavour to run a catamaran service. Island Ferry and Nanaimo officials have been working together for about five years.

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“We are certainly not pleased,” said David Marshall, director of operations and one of 23 investors in Island Ferry Service.

Bernie Dumas, president and CEO of the Port Authority, said the port board decided “enough is enough” at its Friday meeting. “We haven’t got anywhere,” he said.

The request for proposals will be published in January or February in a partnership between the City of Nanaimo and the Nanaimo Port Authority. Details will be based on input from other central Island communities, First Nations, and local government agencies.

The aim is to find a “fast, frequent and reliable passenger ferry service between downtown Nanaimo and downtown Vancouver,” port authority statement said. “One of the key evaluation criteria will be the operating dates put forward by the proponents.”

Marshall would not say whether his company will participate in the proposal call. “We are going to do whatever we have to do to deliver this project in Nanaimo.”

Island Ferry approached Nanaimo in the first place to offer the service, Marshall said. There was no formal request.

A memorandum of understanding for the service had earlier been signed between Island Ferry, the Nanaimo Port Authority, the city, the Regional District of Nanaimo and the Nanaimo Economic Development Corp. The port authority decided Friday to withdraw from that agreement and call for proposals.

Nanaimo council met with the port authority board on Monday about “our mutual interests in the development of the waterfront,” said Tracy Samra, city manager. Council later met in-camera and agreed to work in partnership with the port authority to issue a joint request for proposals in an open and transparent process, she said. “We want to do it on an aggressive timeline. There’s no time to be wasted.”

Council has identified waterfront development, which includes a transportation hub and cultural centre, as priorities, she said.

The port authority worked with Island Ferry for more than five years, but the service is still not in place, Dumas said. “Their big challenge is financing.”

A fast-ferry service using catamarans making multiple runs everyday is considered important for economic development for Nanaimo and the region, Dumas said. Other companies have expressed interest in providing the service, he said.

Respondents to the request for proposals will be asked about their preferred Nanaimo location. There are two options. One is city owned and at 1 Port Drive, south of Nanaimo’s downtown core, and the other is the port authority’s cruise ship terminal. Dumas said it would cost $500,000 or less to fit out the terminal to accommodate catamarans.

Marshall said that Island Ferry met with the port authority on Nov. 9 to state it was close to lining up the final financing needed and that its target date was the end of this year.

Island Ferry is meeting today with officials from Damen Shipyards, a global company headquartered in the Netherlands, to discuss using catamarans on a lease-to-purchase basis.

Setting up a new ferry service is “hugely complex,” Marshall said.

The port authority is seeking additional revenue which would add to the cost of passenger tickets in order to raise money for its “underperforming” cruise ship terminal, Marshall said.

A one-way trip would be $30, with commuters paying $24, he said. The port authority would charge another $1.50 on top of that.

Island Ferry is planning to run six round trips daily in the summer and shoulder seasons and at least four in winter months.

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