Trustees seek to broaden use of Descanso wharf to allow water taxi

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Wednesday, October 3 2018

The Gabriola Island Local Trust Committee will be writing a letter to the Regional District of Nanaimo Board, to encourage the RDN to look into broadening the use of the Descanso Bay emergency wharf to allow for commercial water taxi usage.

The intent described by Trustees is that the dock would be used for dropoff and pickup of passengers - not for docking of the water taxi.

Currently, the wharf’s usage is limited to emergency services (BC Ambulance Service, Gabriola Volunteer Fire Department, RCMP and the Nanaimo Port Authority.)

The dock has seen use in the past by water taxis when the Gabriola ferry has not been able to operate into Nanaimo Harbour.

The request from the Trustees stems from the consultation process conducted by the Gabriola Local Trust Committee (LTC) this past spring, when over 92 per cent of respondents to the Islands Trust survey said they would approve of allowing a commercial water taxi to use the wharf.

The letter being sent to the RDN Board will share the pertinent information from the LTC community consultation, and encourage the RDN to determine the implications (financial and other) of broadening the use of the wharf to include water taxi dropoff and pickup. It will also request that the RDN approach the community for approval to make such a change through a referendum or by using the alternate approval process - whichever is most appropriate.

Further, the LTC will be writing to BC Ferries advising the company of strong community support for water taxi dropoff and pickup service in Descanso Bay, and for BC Ferries to take that into consideration as part of the BC Ferries Terminal Redevelopment Planning Process. That letter will also be copied to the Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee and the Nanaimo Port Authority.

Trustee Heather O’Sullivan said there were clear numbers from the survey in terms of support. She pointed out that the last time there was a proposal from a business to run a water taxi to Gabriola, the Nanaimo proponent worked hard to get permission from the RDN Board. But they [the RDN Board] at that time chose to not consider it...they were not convinced the idea had community support.

“From what I see, there is community support, in particular for Descanso Bay.”

She said she would be interested in seeing the RDN now consider the report that shows how much support there is for the water taxi - and identify what changes would need to happen to the wharf to make it usable for water taxi use. Such a study would include what the increase in taxes would be.

As far as the cost of a referendum, she said, there have been three missed opportunities for there to have been a cost-neutral referendum: the 2014 local government election, the GERTIE referendum held in 2016; and the current local government election which will happen on October 20. She suggested it could be that in the next couple of years there could be another issue which could arise requiring a referendum where referendum costs could be shared. The alternate approval process could also be used.

The alternative approval process requires that 10 per cent or more of the eligible electors must sign and submit response forms in opposition to a proposed initiative to require the local government to obtain assent of the electors.