City of Nanaimo, Snuneymuxw look at access solutions for park

NANAIMO – Ferry service supplied by Protection Island Ferries on interim basis.

Nanaimo Harbour Ferry will no longer zip across the harbour bound for Newcastle, but the loss could herald new opportunities for shuttle service and a stronger working relationship between the City of Nanaimo and Snuneymuxw First Nation.

Nanaimo Harbour Ferry stopped shuttling Newcastle Island passengers June 19, after failing to come to a service agreement with the Snuneymuxw First Nation, the operators of the provincial marine park. Protection Island Ferries will temporarily pick up Newcastle Island passengers at a slightly higher $10 round-trip cost.

The Nanaimo Harbour Ferry would not speak to News Bulletin and the Snuneymuxw First Nation were unavailable for comment, but Mayor Bill McKay told the News Bulletin access options for the Island are being looked at, including the Snuneymuxw buying equipment that it would either provide the service with itself, or hire an operator to crew and maintain.

He sees it as a chance for the city and park operator to partner, potentially through subsidization or the co-purchase of equipment.

The City of Nanaimo has also agreed during a recent protocol agreement working group with the Snuneymuxw to take a more active role in Newcastle and search for resources like government grants to help the First Nation.

“Even though it was a dark day when I learned the ferry operator had left, when I learned a little bit more about it I realized, OK, there’s an opportunity here,” said McKay. “They’re anxious for our help and they appreciate our help and we need to take a more active role. It’s just even little things like really getting the tourism operators together so they promote Newcastle better.”

According to McKay, the Snuneymuxw are talking to potential ferry operators and while the Protection Island Ferries has interim capacity, he notes the need to bring other resources into play and that it could mean the purchase of the existing boats that run to Newcastle.

McKay doesn’t believe a pedestrian bridge is on the table, but would like to see an aerial tramway, or gondola from Georgia Park to the Island.

“The chief and I have had lots of things on our plate, some of them not so pretty, but if we can start freeing up and our council and Snuneymuxw can actually start having some time to sit down and start spitballing some of these ideas, there’s a lot of great ideas out there,” he said.

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