No cuts until ferries is fixed, says Masset mayor Andrew Merilees, as consultants hold four meetings here

  • Nov. 12, 2012 2:00 p.m.

By Jeff King–Masset mayor Andrew Merilees told the ferry consultants who were on-island last week that any cuts in services are not acceptable until the real problems at BC Ferries are dealt with.”What I told the group there is that the ferry system is broken and our communities will not accept any level of service reduction,” Mr. Merilees said, “until the real problems with BC Ferries are fixed.”Mr. Merilees attended two ferry consultation meetings, one in Queen Charlotte on Wednesday afternoon, another in Masset on Thursday evening.Of the Wednesday meeting, attended by about 24 islanders, Mr. Merilees said he thought most of those attending had the feeling that cutting services had already been decided, just maybe not how or where.”BC Ferries put out a number of scenarios of how they could make savings. All of them were about service reductions,” he said.Wally Cheer, mayor of Port Clements attended the Thursday meeting and said he thinks cuts are coming. “My take on it is we are going to experience cuts in services regardless of what we feel or think we need. Something is going to happen to meet the financial demands on the ferry corporation,” he said. Mr. Cheer said he thinks ferry costs should be spread throughout BC, as highways costs are, and as was the new roof for BC Place.”It’s our lifeline and any changes in service levels in BC Ferries are going to affect all community members on Haida Gwaii,” he said.”Personally I’d like to see BC Ferries become a crown corporation again, rather than an entity on its own,” Mr. Cheer said, “we can’t put pressure on BC Ferrries through the provincial government, they have made themselves two separate entities.” He also said he’d like the ferries issue raised in the next provincial election, coming in May.The six ferry consultants arrived on the islands Tuesday last week, holding evening meetings in Sandspit, Queen Charlotte and Masset, and an afternoon session in Queen Charlotte.In Sandspit on Tuesday, about 20 people turned out for what was the very first meeting in the month-long consultation process.”I have a certain dissatisfaction with the way BC Ferries deals with us islanders,” Jim Henry said, noting that to go to Prince Rupert, Sandspit residents have to take the 7 pm Kwuna from Alliford Bay to arrive ahead of the two hour cut off for the big ferry, then must spend 3 ½ hours waiting in the Skidegate Landing parking lot.”Why can’t ferries give us some consideration. Ferries is no longer serving the people. It is serving its business model,” Mr. Henry said. “In the old days, we had a phone number in the booth over there and we could call the manager. Today, we cannot talk to anybody.”He also said in the past, the Kwuna would come back to pick you up, but now it won’t and it’s even leaving minutes before the scheduled sailing time.Peter Simpson of BC Ferries replied called the comments “good feedback”.”If there is a way to change the schedule, we need to hear about it. The kinds of concerns you raise are excellent and deserve some consideration. If we don’t hear about it, we can’t do anything about it,” he said.”In isolated, small areas, the (corporate) rules don’t fit us. There needs to be some way for the corporation to (bend the rules),” Gail Henry said, while Gail Hoss added “no one thinks of the person. The human factor has been what has been missing in the whole evening. Anything we want to do, we have to take that ferry.”Ms Hoss also said cutting Kwuna sailings in the evening would effectively mean Sandspit residents can’t participate in evening events on Graham Island.”It’s our life link. And you are making it smaller and smaller,” Gail Henry said.”No decision has been made. We are out here working with government trying to figure out what we can do. I want to hear from you, we are out here to try to get ideas,” Mr. Richter said.Patricia Parsons spoke about the ferry to Prince Rupert and said “we can’t afford to lose any of those sailings. All our post comes by ferry. If there are any cutbacks on that sailing, it puts us in a bit of a bind also,” and Peter Grundmann, with the BC Ambulance Service, expressed his concern that if Kwuna sailings were cut, the ambulance crews would call out more special sailings, putting a financial burden on the health ministry.About 20 people attended in Queen Charlotte on Wednesday evening.”What do you want to do about this problem. We don’t have a problem,” said Stan McLean.Mr. Richter replied there is a problem.”We need your help trying to figure out what configurations to use to save $26-million,” he said.To that, Mr. McLean suggested ferries could “lay off 26 of your top staff and get some of your money back.””Thank you”, said Mr. Richter.Mavis Mark asked if ships could be downsized on any routes and the idea of a bridge between Graham and Moresby islands came up, although Mr. Richter said it’s not currently being considered, primarily because so much new road would have to built. “There’s another issue here because you don’t contract out anything. It comes down to small things, like snow removal. You don’t contract anything here. It’s no benefit to our community. None of the people who work on the boat are from here, so you don’t contribute anything here to our economy at all, other than show up with the boat, Stan McLean said.In Masset Thursday night, about 20 people attended the open house, but most had left by the time the question and answer session was to be held.The province is asking residents of coastal communities to help come up with a plan to cut $26-million in costs. The consultants it has hired, at a cost of close to $700,000, are visiting more than 30 communities before mid-December.To participate, you can complete an online feedback form at www.coastalferriesengagement.caThere’s lots more information on that website.

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