Saving the Discovery Coast Ferry has become an all-consuming mission for Petrus Rykes and Bill Van Es of Anahim Lake.
The cancellation of route 40 serviced by the Queen of Chilliwack sailing from Port Hardy to Bella Coola, was replaced with the Nimpkish.
With a 16-vehicle capacity, the smaller vessel service is impacting communities from Bella Coola to Williams Lake, Rykes and Van Es said.
Rykes said Route 40 began servicing the Central Coast in 1996, and is actually three routes in one.
There’s a direct route from Port Hardy to Bella Coola, which is the one that’s been cancelled, and two milk runs that run to places like Ocean Falls.
“That’s where 90 per cent of the money is being lost, on the milk runs, and that’s the part they are keeping,” Rykes said. “The part they’ve cancelled was at 70 per cent capacity, the second highest of all the fleet routes.”
Statistics show it’s a profitable product, but it should run in daylight so passengers can view the scenery, he added.
In 2013, roughly 7,000 people used the ferry.
Rykes, a tourism operator for almost 40 years at Anahim Lake, chairs the Save the Discovery Coast campaign. Van Es is a board member.
They are both members of the West Chilcotin Tourism Association and have engaged Broadview Strategies to help with the Save the Discovery Coast campaign.
The cancellation of the direct run will save $725,000, however the Nimpkish retrofit is $2 million alone, and another $1 million for amenities, Rykes said.
“There’s no food or water on it. It’s a little ferry designed for 40 minute to one hour trips, from Port McNeil to Sontula, Alert Bay, and now they are going nine or ten hours through some of the longest fjords in the world.”
It’s a wet vessel and people are paying premium prices for something that is not living up to expectations.
Rykes said Route 40 has so much going for it and for a lot of the tourism operations, the three-month tourism season is their means of survival.
He and Van Es have met with Transportation Minister Todd Stone and Minister of State for Tourism Naomi Yamamoto and gone to Vancouver to present their case.
“We were almost met with blank stares to be honest so we’re not sure if we’re getting through to them,” Van Es said, adding they have made it very clear the pressure has only started because it’s not just making money, it’s about survival in the West Chilcotin and Bella Coola.”
In recent months, the Williams Lake and District Chamber of Commerce, with endorsement from the BC Chamber, has insisted that BC Ferries reverse and defer any decisions on any service reductions on any route until adequate economic impact studies are down by third party status.
“The accounting we’re getting out of BC Ferries seems to be foggy at best as far as transportation numbers, actual ridership and vehicles,” chamber president Jason Ryll said. “We along Bella Coola to Williams Lake know how many people use that ferry route on a regular basis and how dependent they are on having adequate transportation service.”
Van Es told chamber members in May everyone is severely impacted by the ferry cuts.
“It’s not only grizzly bear viewing or fishing in Bella Coola and Anahim Lake, it’s the whole economy that comes through to Williams Lake by people buying gas, buying T-shirts and hats, or spending the night all the way along.”