Severe hits to BC Ferries’ revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic have reduced the company’s operating and capital budgets, meaning terminal upgrade projects planned for Salt Spring Island have been pushed back yet again.
BC Ferries public affairs manager Darin Guenette reported the news during the semi-annual public meeting between company executives and the Salt Spring Ferry Advisory Committee, held in digital format on Jan. 27. While committee members were not surprised that pandemic traffic losses would have some impact, they were taken aback by the extent of the shift on a much-anticipated overhaul at Fulford Harbour. Guenette said the terminal expansion project slated for 2022-23 has been pushed back significantly, and the scope of the upgrade is also undetermined.
“We’re now 37 years and counting since the community has been wanting to change the safety situation in Fulford,” said FAC member John Wakefield. “To hear it’s been delayed four or five years is disappointing.”
FAC chair Harold Swierenga also said he was disappointed by the new ideas on the Fulford terminal upgrade, both in timing and in content. BC Ferries has presented the community with a series of different scenarios for improving the terminal space and getting waiting cars off the road since 2011. Difficulty in finalizing a deal to acquire the Patterson family property next to the terminal has caused the company to propose a much smaller expansion of inner terminal space than its most recent design scheme.
“I had an inkling it was on the back burner, but I didn’t realize how it would compare to other projects,” Swierenga said after last Wednesday’s meeting. “I think the key thing is they’re not spending a lot of money on capital projects right now because they don’t have it.”
Swierenga was additionally frustrated to hear BC Ferries is not considering a two-ship solution as an eventual replacement for the Skeena Queen on the Fulford-Swartz Bay route.
Peter Simpson, director of fleet operations strategy, explained that it would be difficult to replace the Skeena with two of the Island Class ferries the company is currently bringing in because the morning routes are busy with commuters and commercial traffic, requiring a bigger vessel. Electric power for the hybrid diesel-electric ships could also be an issue.