Since BC Ferries announced Monday that it will cancel its Mid Coast sailing to Bella Coola, North Coast MLA Jenn Rice’s phone and e-mail account have been busy.
“It’s so devastating for people,” Rice said. “People are calling me practically in tears.”
She’s heard from tourism operators in Bella Coola who need the business, and also residents in Bella Bella who rely on (the ferry sailing) to go to Port Hardy to buy groceries.
“A woman told me it’s $30 for a package of sausage and $100 for a family pack of hamburger (in Bella Bella).”
Rice said many people feel the government isn’t taking the valley’s economy into consideration.
If it’s about saving money, Rice wonders what the financial impact will be to Bella Coola’s $2.4 million annual tourism revenues.
On the BC Ferries website it stated the cancellation of the Bella Coola run would save the corporation roughly $1.45 million in net savings to 2016.
A community meeting with BC Ferries is slated for (today) Nov. 22 at 5:30 p.m. in Bella Coola to discuss the cancellation and the proposal to replace the summer service by extending the current winter connector, the Nimpkish, year-round, connecting Ocean Falls, Shearwater and Bella Coola and the north-south Prince Rupert to Port Hardy service.
Williams Lake and District Chamber of Commerce president Jason Ryll said it’s unfortunate BC Ferries isn’t going to meet with any other affected communities along the corridor, such as Williams Lake.
“It affects the entire circle route,” Ryll said.
“There are other ways that BC Ferries could restructure so that it was actually profitable. It’s set up very inconveniently for customers.”
He said when people arrive in Bella Coola and want to continue on with the circle route, they are driving through the Chilcotin at night.
“It’s kind of hard to see the most beautiful region in the world when you’re travelling in the dark,” he said.
BC Ferries stated the annual utilization rate for the Discovery Coast Passage sailing was 29.5 per cent on its 39 round trips over the summer months, however area residents say that number is still significant to them.
A few years ago, Bella Coola resident Leonard Ellis opened the Norwegian Heritage House visitors centre in the Bella Coola Valley.
“We documented 1,176 visitors there last year that had come in on the ferry and that’s just some of the people that come here by way of the ferry,” Ellis said. “That’s a pretty significant number for a couple of months over the summer.”
Those visitors were all driving big motorhomes, rigs, and cars, renting cabins and going on tours.
“It’s very significant for this little valley,” he said. “They go all along Highway 20. There are spin-offs. All these people land in Williams Lake at the end of the day and they book accommodations in Williams Lake.
“The problem with using the Nimpkish is that the ferry from Port Hardy to Bella Bella is a pretty significantly lengthy run and if people have to offload at Bella Bella, and depending on the connection time, there’s basically next to nothing for facilities in Bella Bella.”
Ellis doesn’t see the solution as an alternative for the tourist season, he said.
“I’m doing everything I can to get people out to the meeting,” he said. “It would be nice to see people from Williams Lake, but I know it’s a long ways.”