B.C. Ferries passengers watch killer whales near the vessel on its way from Tsawwaassen to Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

B.C. Ferries passengers watch killer whales near the vessel on its way from Tsawwaassen to Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

MLAs spar over B.C. Ferries, oil tankers and impact on whales

NDP government defends pipeline protests, big increase in ferry sailings

Opposition critics are questioning the B.C. government about its intention to add 2,700 more B.C. Ferries sailings per year to coastal waters, while working with Washington state to prevent one additional oil tanker a day from B.C. in the name of protecting killer whales.

In its reconsideration report on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, the National Energy Board noted that tankers are only one source of shipping noise and disturbance for marine life in the Salish Sea, the name given to coastal waters off southern B.C. and Washington.

Noise and potential ship strikes from ferries and all other large vessels affect the feeding and movement of humpback, grey, fin and killer whales, as well as basking sharks and leatherback sea turtles, the NEB report says. In its second report listing conditions for approval of the pipeline project, the federal regulator calls for quieter vessels and slower transit through coastal areas including the Swiftsure bank, the passage south of Victoria where a steady stream of cargo ships and tankers pass by each day.

READ MORE: Inslee lowers pressure on Trans Mountain opposition

READ MORE: 2,700 more sailings coming to 10 B.C. Ferries routes

In the legislature, B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson called on Premier John Horgan to explain why he frequently calls on Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to support his opposition to Trans Mountain, but neither mention the Alaska crude oil tankers that supply refineries in the state.

“We have tankers going through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, two kilometres from this building, 500 of them a year for the last 45 years,” Wilkinson said. “And this government says it’s going to solve the world’s problems by blocking the Trans Mountain pipeline so we can buy all our fuel from Washington state.”

Last week Transportation Minister Claire Trevena announced that an agreement has been reached with B.C. Ferries to reinstate 2,700 sailings that were cancelled due to low passenger volume in 2014. In an interview, Trevena said the government is aware of environmental impacts, but the need to improve ferry service is urgent for residents and businesses.

“B.C. Ferries has been very strong on the green transportation file,” Trevena said. “They’re not only shifting to LNG and hybrid electric, but they’re very conscious of the impact on southern resident orcas, and are very aware of their impact on the environment.”

The services getting additional sailings include Prince Rupert to Haida Gwaii and Port Hardy, Salt Spring Island, Bowen Island, Texada Island and Gabriola Island. Quadra Island, where Trevena lives, is getting increased service to Campbell River and to Cortes Island.

The 2013 service review reported the vehicle utilization on each sailing. For Quadra Island to Campbell River, the 8 p.m. ferry was running at less than five per cent capacity seven days per week.

In its third quarter financial statement, released last week, B.C. Ferries reported its year-to-date earnings were $93.2 million, $7.7 million lower than the same time last year. The loss is partly due to the NDP government’s reduction of fares and reinstatement of free weekday travel for seniors announced last year.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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