TOWN OF PORT MCNEILL PHOTO Port McNeill council (pictured above) agreed to send a letter of support to Bella Coola Valley Tourism regarding an earlier start date for the Northern Sea Wolf.

Town of Port McNeill backs Bella Coola Valley Tourism

“It really hurt that community tremendously when they (BC Ferries) took that ferry off.”

Bella Coola Valley Tourism is gaining local support to help fight for an earlier start date for the Northern Sea Wolf.

Port McNeill council agreed at their last council meeting to send a letter of support backing Bella Coola Valley Tourism’s request for an earlier start to the 2019 season with the Northern Sea Wolf.

“I’d like to make a comment about Bella Coola,” said Coun. Graham MacDonald, adding, “This is very important to them.”

Mayor Shirley Ackland agreed, stating, “it really hurt that community tremendously when they (BC Ferries) took that ferry off.”

The letter of support, addressed to Mark Wilson, BC Ferries Vice President Strategy and Community Engagement, states that “the delayed start of the Northern Sea Wolf has resulted in negative impacts on tourism operators in our region, many of whom invested heavily in its return. Tourism plays an important role in our local economy and after the devastating wildfires of 2017, hopes were high that the Northern Sea Wolf would play a large role in our 2018 recovery.”

The letter continues, stating, “We understand that BC Ferries is doing everything it can to ready the vessel for mid-July, but this does not make up for the losses local tourism operators have already suffered. Bella Coola Valley Tourism has requested that a mid-May start in 2019 is preferable to an extension of the 2018 season into October. We believe that the work Bella Coola Valley Tourism has done, both in terms of relationship-building and tourism research, supports this request.”

Port Hardy council will be voting at their Aug. 7 meeting on whether or not to send the same letter of support to Bella Coola Valley Tourism.

Coun. Fred Robertson noted in a previous interview with the Gazette that he thinks it will definitely be a cause that Port Hardy council will support.

Wilson and BC Ferries Manager of Public Affairs, Darin Guenette, attended both a meeting with Port Hardy council and Port Hardy Chamber of Commerce stakeholders on July 18 to answer questions regarding the delay.

Wilson explained that in 2016 the province announced the service between Port Hardy and Bella Coola would be starting summer of 2018 and to meet that timeline, BC Ferries purchased a used ship which was later named the Northern Seawolf.

“We didn’t acquire the ship until the end of August early September of last year and the ship didn’t get here until the fall and that took about two-and-a-half months out of our project contingency,” said Wilson, adding, “To meet our safety and reliability standards, it needed a high level of work – much more work than we anticipated.”

He said the ship is currently in Victoria being refitted by local contractors.

BC Ferries Customer Care team will be contacting affected customers to provide more information and options.

– with files from Hanna Petersen

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