Foot ferry proponent wants new lease for City of Nanaimo land

NANAIMO – Island Ferries says it has secured final investment to get foot ferry to Lower Mainland up and running.

Island Ferries wants to renew a lease with the City of Nanaimo, claiming it now has the financial commitment to start passenger ferry service between downtown Nanaimo and downtown Vancouver.

But civic politicians aren’t willing to sink their search for other potential passenger ferry operators before it begins.

The City of Nanaimo and the Nanaimo Port Authority are currently drafting terms for a request for proposals to take a look at what operators exist to start up a new foot ferry service.

However, Island Ferries says it is now in a position to start up service in six months with its final investor. That investor wants to enter into talks with the city about renewing an expired lease for the south industrial waterfront, albeit with different terms if that is what the city wants, according to Island Ferries spokesman David Marshall.

He says there have been two written requests for the city to meet with its investor and both went unanswered. It was only after Island Ferries requested to appear as a delegation at an open meeting that the company received a letter from the city reasserting it was going ahead with an RFP process.

Marshall said he doesn’t understand why the city is committed to the process when the company is ready to go. He said the city entered into a lease agreement when the company didn’t have any money and acknowledges the company didn’t get the service started in time. He said now that it has the financial commitment the city doesn’t seem to be interested.

Island Ferries is “truly flummoxed by that,” Marshall said.

He also said the company’s investor wants to see that the governing body wants the ferry service and he doesn’t know what it means that the city won’t talk. Island Ferries plans to look at the RFP.

“It’s a conundrum,” he said. “We’ve always preceded on the basis or on the assumption that this was the city’s highest transportation priority and so we are ready to deliver it and they are saying we don’t think so, we’ve changed our minds.”

City Coun. Bill Bestwick said council is committed to the RFP. The city worked independently to secure a foot ferry between Vancouver and Nanaimo for between five and 10 years and was unsuccessful, he said.

Three months ago, it agreed to partner with the port authority to see if there were other interested proponents. He believes there’s been “terrific progress” and no disadvantages to moving forward. Whether he’s lost faith in Island Ferries is a rhetorical question, he said.

“If they say they have everything they need, then I trust they will reach the top of the expression of interest list,” he said.

Mayor Bill McKay told the News Bulletin Island Ferries’ request for discussion was acknowledged and it was to say council made a decision to go ahead with a request for proposal, or expression of interest.

He, however, has been in favor of putting the RFP on hold and working with Island Ferries and its investor.

The city has a good idea of what it’s dealing with in the company and they have “come a long way,” he said.