Small ferries, terminals to get $201M upgrade

The federal government will put up $60 million in infrastructure grants for B.C. Ferries upgrades worth $201 million, including better vessels on routes serving Port Hardy, Port McNeill and some Gulf Islands.

The purchase of two vessels to serve the Powell River-Texada Island and Port McNeill-Alert Bay-Sointula routes now served by aging vessels was the first project named in a joint announcement by the federal government and B.C. Ferries on Friday.

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Second on the list was procuring and refurbishing a used vessel for the seasonal route between Port Hardy and Bella Coola. It is expected to sail in summer 2018, replacing the 44-year-old MV Nimpkish.

Improvements for several terminals are also slated, including a major reno of Ocean Falls on the mainland side.

Paul Ryan, a Gulf Islands chairman of the B.C. Ferries advisory committee, said he welcomes the funding but thinks some projects might be easier said than done.

“I don’t think they’re going to just snap their fingers and come up with a used vessel that meets the criteria of that [Bella Coola] route,” Ryan said. “There’s a lot of open water and it’s a long run.”

The sailing leaves Port Hardy at 7:30 a.m. and arrives in Bella Coola at 11:59 p.m.

The third project identified for funding is replacement of the 1950s-era Langdale Terminal, near Gibsons on the Sunshine Coast.

“We aren’t releasing the exact breakdown for the three projects at the present time because we haven’t tendered them all, and don’t want to compromise the bidding process,” B.C. Ferries spokeswoman Deborah Marshall told the Times Colonist. “They aren’t quite equally a third of the $60 million [apiece], but each project is eligible for a substantial portion.”

B.C. Ferries’ 10-year capital plan calls for about $3 billion to be spent on ships, terminals, information technology and other projects, she said.

Annual provincial support for B.C. Ferries is holding steady at about $180 million. “The province was instrumental in working with the federal government, ensuring Ferries were eligible for the federal funding announced today under New Building Canada Fund,” Marshall said.

Ryan said the $60 million is far less than B.C. Ferries needs.

“It might be enough if the provincial government stepped up and funded B.C. Ferries on the same level as it funds other transportation infrastructure — I mean highways, I mean TransLink, you name it. Every other form of transportation infrastructure, in the Lower Mainland especially, gets funded up the yin-yang — and B.C. Ferries doesn’t.”

It comes down to politics, he said, because ferry towns are mostly in ridings held by the NDP.

B.C. Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone said in statement that the $60 million is “a big step toward realizing our vision of an affordable, efficient and sustainable coastal ferry system.”

The $60 million is part of $180 billion in infrastructure funding over 12 years that the federal government has said it will provide for public transit, green infrastructure, social infrastructure, transportation that supports trade, and rural and northern communities.

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