The provincial government is close to signing an agreement with BC Ferries for a new vessel to replace the Nimpkish, said Todd Stone, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure.
“The Nimpkish will have to be replaced no later than 2018, possibly earlier,” Stone said while in Williams Lake Thursday. “Very soon B.C. Ferries will begin the process of procuring a new vessel.”
While he was not sure how big the new ferry will be, Stone said it is apparent the capacity of the Nimpkish to hold 16 vehicles and 133 passengers is not large enough.
“Again the season is booked solid, as it was last season and the season before,” Stone said.
The new ferry will be a modern ship with all the modern amenities and fully accessible, he added.
Stone stressed, however, there will be no reinstatement of Route 40 with the direct link between Port Hardy and Bella Coola.
“I completely understand there is a level of frustration and disappointment with that and know there have been impacts to the tourism industry, with the hardest hit being Bella Coola, then the Chilcotin part of the province and some businesses here in Williams Lake,” he said, adding he hoped the new ferry announcement brings certainty to the region’s tourism industry.
The announcement of a new ferry is good news said Petrus Rykes, chair of Save the Discovery Coast Ferry and president of the West Chilcotin Tourism Association.
“Right now if they get a bigger ferry and they have some amenities, that would bring back some of the players internationally,” Rykes said. ”It’s a doable proposition. It can make money if it’s run properly, otherwise we wouldn’t be bothered fighting for it.”
Stone promised to make sure there is a good amount of community engagement with people throughout the Bella Coola Valley and Cariboo-Chilcotin around the new ferry’s scheduling.
“All of that process will be led by B.C. Ferries,” Stone said.
“It’s only our job to tell BC Ferries which routes we are prepared to fund and at what level of service.”
The province continues to receive $30 million annually from the federal government to provide the continuation of service between the mainland and Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii, Stone confirmed.