The Island Ferries vessel Island Tenacity seen in Singapore. (Submitted photo)

Island Ferries signs lease agreement with Nanaimo Port Authority

Passenger-only ferry service planned for mid-2018

Ferry service from Nanaimo to Vancouver has moved one step closer to reality.

Island Ferries Services announced today (Aug. 23) that it has signed an offer to lease with the Nanaimo Port Authority. The company will be leasing facilities at 100 Port Way, which will serve as a terminal for its intended passenger-only ferry service between Nanaimo and Waterfront Station in downtown Vancouver.

Dave Marshall, Island Ferries’ director of operations, called the announcement a “significant” step toward foot passenger service between the mid-Island and Vancouver.

“There are a lot of moving parts to this whole project and one of those key parts is having a place in Nanaimo from which to operate,” he said. “Without it we don’t have a project. Without this we don’t have a service, so finally achieving this agreement is critical.”

Island Ferries is planning to begin passenger service from Nanaimo by June 2018, but still needs to sign an actual lease agreement with the port authority, which will happen before the end of the year, according to Marshall, who said the agreement is “long-term” but wouldn’t get into specifics about length or the financials surrounding lease rates.

“We have signed off on the term sheet, which is a contractual document and ultimately it gets expanded into the lease agreement,” Marshall said.

The announcement is the culmination of a long process for Island Ferries. In 2014, the company signed a 20-year land lease agreement with the City of Nanaimo to operate foot passenger service to Vancouver from the south industrial waterfront. But in March 2015, it had missed a startup deadline, which ultimately led to the agreement with the city falling apart. A few months later, the Nanaimo Port Authority announced its intentions to find an operator for daily foot ferry service to Vancouver, which surprised Island Ferries.

More than a year later, the city, port authority and the Snuneymuxw First Nation began working together to find a private operator for the route. They received expressions of interest from Riverside Marine (V2V Vacations), Clipper Navigation and Island Ferries, which was later named as the likely operator.

“To quote an old song, it’s been a long, winding road,” said Marshall, adding that he’s pleased that all sides came to an agreement.

Although a major hurdle appears to be cleared, there is still plenty of work to be done. Island Ferries still needs to complete environmental assessments, further engage in consultation with the Snuneymuxw and finalize agreements with TransLink. It will also need to hire and train ship and terminal crews.

“There are physical infrastructure changes that are needed at the port,” Marshall said, adding that he doesn’t expect the rest of the work to take long and that Island Ferries is expecting to take delivery of two catamarans by early June.

One of the agreements that still needs to be finalized with TransLink is the use of the Seabus terminal at Waterfront Station, which Island Ferries wants to use as its terminus station for the route.

“We don’t have a licence to operate but we have been working with TransLink for quite some time now,” Marshall said. “Ultimately we need a licence to operate from the TransLink terminal and that will take some time, but certainly not 20 months.”

An open house will likely be held by Island Ferries, but Marshall doesn’t know when exactly that will happen.

nicholas.pescod@nanaimobulletin.com