A 900-signature petition to save the Discovery Coast Ferry is now in the hands of Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett to pass on to her government.
Doug Wilson of Williams Lake delivered the petition to Barnett Wednesday at the Tourism Discovery Centre.
He said hundreds of people are concerned about the cancellation of the ferry service and the financial hardship it will bring to the many enterprises along the Highway 20 corridor.
“Many tourist operators are depending on the continuation of travellers along this route,” Wilson said. “The circle tour was started in recognition of the importance of that tourism through this vast area of B.C.”
As the forest industry has declined, the developing tourist industry within the circle tour is helping fill an important gap, he said.
Barnett said she is working as hard as she can to have the ferry continue in 2014.
“Our tourism operators have sold their packages overseas, they’ve sold them around the world. At this point in time there’s a financial analysis document of the tourism industry being prepared that will be going to the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure.”
Barnett is hoping to bring the Minister of Tourism and Jobs, Shirley Bond, and Minister of State for Tourism, Naomi Yamamoto, to Williams Lake in the not too distance future.
“I will continue to pursue the ferry. I know how important it is and I will certainly take this to the minister,” she said of the petition.
Wilson also said the 18.5 kilometre section of the road between Heckman Pass and the foot of the Bella Coola Hill is a concern.
“I have received letters from government arguing there is little need for a better road. Government’s argument is no industry, no commerce and little accident history to warrant it.”
Because the area does not have a highway that meets safe national standards, industry, tourism and commerce are discouraged from fully developing, Wilson said.
Along with the petition Wilson brought a display of information showing there could be a highway to the central coast constructed to safe national highway standards without switchbacks with a grade of under six per cent, also that the plateau can be reached within eight and half kilometres instead.
“The elevation difference would be 1,300 feet instead of 3,900 feet of the Highway 20 to reach the plateau.”
The display included a professional aerial survey done by Rudy Johnson showing the plateau area where a better road could be constructed.
“When the army went in there in 1943 and built the telephone line down there they managed to get through there. What’s wrong with us?” Johnson said. “There isstill a big pile of poles on the river bank there. They were supposed to take them up but the road was never put through.”
A half decent road into Bella Coola could open up a third port on B.C.’s coast, Johnson said.
“They could store hundreds of boats if there was a better road.”
The poles were leftthere to rot, and are still there.
“It’s called Pole Island right in the Atnarko River,” Wilson said.
Barnett told Wilson and Johnson the historical data was very valuable and encouraged Wilson to leave copies at the Tourism Discovery Centre and the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin.
Debbie Fisher of Williams Lake asked Barnett why someone isn’t pushing to have Highway 20 designated as a Schedule Two Highway.
“If you go into the Highway’s Act it’s classified as a secondary road. There are all sorts of different funding protocols for Schedule Two Highways. The Nazko Highway is a Schedule Two Highway.”
More funding is available and different practices have to be followed for road construction.
There should be a push to have it changed, Fisher added.
Williams Lake and District Chamber of Commerce executive director Claudia Blair said the chamber has received a letter from BC Ferries president and CEO Mike Corrigan offering to meet.
“He did not say he would restore the ferry but would meet to discuss options for the Nimpkish Ferry,” Blair said.