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Prince Rupert businesses losing out as space limited on Haida Gwaii ferry

A shortage of commercial space on the ferry between Prince Rupert and Skidegate is costing Prince Rupert businesses thousands. - Shaun Thomas photo
A shortage of commercial space on the ferry between Prince Rupert and Skidegate is costing Prince Rupert businesses thousands.
— image credit: Shaun Thomas photo

A perfect storm of sorts on the BC Ferries system is costing Prince Rupert businesses thousands of dollars, but this one has nothing to do with the seas of Hecate Strait.

The combination of a major paving project between Masset and Port Clements and service reductions that took effect on April 28 has meant those wanting to ship goods to Haida Gwaii often find themselves without space on the ship. Darin Gunette of BC Ferries confirmed that Adventure Paving, the company undertaking the paving job, has taken the majority of commercial reservations between May and the end of June to accommodate the movement of machinery to and from the island.

"We didn't know it was coming until they started calling to make reservations," he said.

“A lot of other commercial traffic is being put on standby. We have had up to 40 vehicles per day on the waiting list ... it’s a big project, one that only happens once in a very long time,” added Gunette.

That has meant the flow of goods from Prince Rupert to Haida Gwaii is anything but a certainty. One business that has felt the impact of being unable to make a reservation between now and July is Tyee Building Supplies.

“We had an order come in for a Haida Gwaii customer that was about $7,500. We had it pulled and ready to go, but there was no certainty we could get it on the ferry until the end of next month ... there is the possibility of cancellations or space being available, but that was too much of an uncertainty and the customer pulled the order,” said manager Sharon Rothwell, adding she feels the ferry system should be treated no differently than the highway system.

Another business feeling the pinch is Bandstra Transportation, which regularly takes a variety of goods to the island.

“We have one trailer of food and one trailer of Canada Post that is certain to go over and that is all we can do ... we are contractually obligated to send Canada Post to the island, so we can’t put that off if we need to take more food,” said manager Chris Bromley, noting it is not usually an issue getting an extra trailer on board.

“It’s absolutely chaotic. We have trailer loads of cargo that aren’t going anywhere.”

But Gunette said commercial entities looking to make it to Haida Gwaii should still make their way to the terminal.

“What I hear is most of those on the waiting list are getting on as our staff have been taking careful consideration and filling the vessel as efficiently as possible,” he said, noting some Adventure Paving reservations have been cancelled due to weather impacting their work.

“It’s really going sailing-by-sailing right now.”

As for private vehicles, a call to BC Ferries reservations on May 9 indicates the next available reservation isn’t until May 22.

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