Boat shuttle for cruise ship visitors a bid to pacify James Bay

A new boat shuttle to carry cruise ship passengers is planned for 2014 and high-volume buses wlll be used again as the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority tries to pacify James Bay.

The marine service is coming in response to long-standing neighborhood complaints about buses transporting 100,000 passengers annually to and from Ogden Point, which sees about 200 cruise ship dockings annually. Next year, 210 ship visits are expected, with 490,000 passengers and 200,000 crew members.

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Tensions are obvious between the James Bay community and the harbour authority.

The harbour authority has spent years trying to build a better relationship with the community association, said Curtis Grad, harbour authority president and CEO, at a news conference at Esquimalt Graving Dock on Friday, where an economic impact study on cruise ships was released.

“It’s not easy. We’ve had our ups and downs. It’s never going to be a perfect union between the neighbourhood and the activity,” he said.

“What needs to be managed is the overall impact and we are taking tangible steps. The bus traffic is the big impact. We have been working on solutions for that.”

Marg Gardiner, neighbourhood association president, said in an interview: “We don’t want any buses.”

She pointed to the $13-million package of amenities Esquimalt is receiving to offset the impact of a planned sewage treatment plant. It includes barging materials to McLoughlin Point instead of allowing them on local roads.

“Esquimalt has set the bar,” she said. “The bar is $13 million.”

Gardiner said that would be enough money to transport passengers via water, rather than buses, to the Inner Harbour and compensate residents living on the bus route. The waterfront walkway between Ogden Point and downtown could also be finished.

She attended the press conference but complained she only found out about it through the media and had not been invited. She is also unhappy that the association did not receive the harbour authority’s economic impact study earlier.

Grad said that it is too soon to say how many passengers would ride a water shuttle. Vessels could carry from 40 to 200 passengers each. The dock where Pacific Undersea Gardens was located will probably be used.

This year’s pilot project to reduce traffic through James Bay, which included using double-decker buses, will be extended into 2014, he said.

A proposed $10-million James Bay gondola system for passengers was put on hold by its backer after heated meetings this week with angry James Bay residents.

The cruise industry generated $96 million for the capital region’s economy and created $30 million in wages through 683 jobs in 2012, said the Business Research and Economic Advisors study commissioned by the harbour authority.

Last year, ship visits led to $49 million in direct spending, rising to $96 million once indirect spending was included, it said.

A total of 683 full- and part-time jobs were created and $30 million in wages were paid, the analysis estimated.

The study said 77.5 per cent of passengers came ashore to spend an average of $66.11 at retail outlets, plus tours, transportation, and food and beverages. Among crew members, 43 per cent came ashore and spent an average of $64.10 each.

Cruise lines spent about $15.6 million in port and navigation charges, services such as waste removal and supplies, the study said.

“The cruise industry is a significant economic benefit to the region,” Grad said. “It supports a broad range of jobs from marine, tourism, and other support industries.”

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