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Hornby Island-Denman Island Ferry Advisory Committee members resign over cuts to ferry service

BC Ferries possibly cutting mid-island services isn’t sitting well with many.

As a result, four members of the Hornby Island-Denman Island Ferry Advisory Committee (FAC) have resigned.

One of them is Hornby Island Fire Chief Doug Chinnery, who feels their voices aren’t being heard by BC Ferries.

He sent out a tweet on Sunday saying  “It has never been more clear to me that BCF considers the FACs to be merely a contractual obligation and have no interest in consultation or collaboration.”

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The others are Comox Valley Regional District Area A Director Daniel Arbour, Hornby Island trustee Grant Scott, and George McCrae from Denman Island. 

Chinnery resigned due to what he calls, “the decision that (BC) Ferries had made to go back to minimum service levels.”

“They did this without any consultation with the very committee that they’ve really engaged (with) to try and help them with these decisions,” Chinnery said. “We got called on a Wednesday night for a Thursday morning meeting, and then they handed down this decision with no consultation and it was basically the last straw for me.”

The issue is a possible reduction in sailings. 

Chinnery said the route between Hornby Island and Denman Island on the Lambert Channel would see one sailing cut, every day, plus the reduction of another sailing on Friday nights.

The Buckley Bay to Denman Island route could also be impacted.

“The Denman ferry, so to go from Vancouver Island to Denman, will have the same sailing cut every day, but they’ll have two sailings cut on Friday evenings,” Chinnery explained.

BC Ferris is considering these cuts, Chinnery added, “but any of the conversations that I’ve had with (BC) Ferries, it seems like there’s really no room for them to not do it, although we’re hoping that before it goes in, that the provincial government can hand down a bit of direction to them to figure out some way of making this not happen for this route.”

Chinnery says BC Ferries is not saving anything on labour charges.

“All they’re saving is the fuel charge for a 10-minute crossing. Four small diesel engines, you can kind of do the math to figure out what that’s going to cost but the estimates are somewhere between $15 and $30 per day that they’re going to save on these routes.”

He added that BC Ferries is putting small coastal communities “in hardship” for less than $50 a day in savings, potentially.

Hornby Island has substantial capital projects in the works, including a new school, affordable housing project, and arts building, Chinnery said.

“You add those together, and that is a lot of projects, and a lot of trucks and a lot of tradespeople and deliveries coming onto Hornby,” Chinnery added, “and now there is going to be a gap in the middle of the day when people want to transport goods back and forth. It just makes no sense for the savings that they are going to get out of these routes, to actually put these sailing cuts in place.”

Meanwhile, Arbour wrote to BC Ferries, saying that, “because of a clearly inconsistent approach by the Ministry of Transportation and BC Ferries on the restart; a possible return to the attritive approach of 2014, and my prior pleading for more engagement with communities at the time COVID started instead of cancellation of communication with communities, I am resigning from the BC Ferries Advisory Committee.”

Arbour added that a return of the midday gap and cancellation of Friday night runs “is an erratic and financially meaningless decision, particularly as our communities have been incredible partners in growing traffic over the last years and helping you run route 21 and 22 in the black.”

He said that “this type of 16 hours heads up on a decision that was taken 90 days ago does not make sense, and demonstrates the possible uselessness of the Ferry Advisory process.”

BC Ferries spokesperson, Deborah Marshall, said the reductions are being reviewed.

“We’re still in the process of working with communities to identify the most underutilized sailings to be removed from the schedules on some of the routes that are over the contract level that we have with the province,” she said.

“We do need to find some savings to preserve the ferry system and we are going to continue to work with these communities to have the least impact as possible.”

Marshall said it is “unfortunate” that the advisory committee members chose to resign: “We certainly value the contributions made by these volunteers, but I guess that’s their prerogative.”

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