Ucluelet mayor Dianne St. Jacques believes the current highway closure between the Tofino-Ucluelet junction and Port Alberni illustrates the need for a car ferry service.
Vancouver Island’s West Coast communities, including Tofino and Ucluelet, are currently cut off from the rest of the Island as responders deal with a jet fuel spill caused by a flipped fuel truck on Highway 4 near Hydro Hill.
“If any good was to come out of it, it’s certainly highlighting the need and pushing forward the whole ferry idea and the reality of it is probably going to come to us sooner than we thought,” St. Jacques told the Westerly News.
“There’s no question that the awful incident that’s happened out there yesterday will show the folks outside of our region the need that we have for that transportation link to be able to get vehicles back and forth.”
Ucluelet’s municipal council is supporting a bid by Mike Surrell of Lady Rose Marine to operate a car ferry between Port Alberni, Ucluelet and Bamfield.
Surrell purchased the MV Tenaka from BC Ferries last year and told the Westerly News on Friday that he remains in negotiations with the Ministry of Transportation to use the vessel as a car ferry service from Port Alberni to Ucluelet and Bamfield. He said the vessel could fit about 30 cars per trip.
“It needs to have the blessing from the government,” he said. “It’s just a matter of getting all our ducks in a row, getting agreements between everybody and putting everything together.”
He said, if everything comes together smoothly, he plans to purchase a second vessel in order to have two that would be transporting passengers and vehicles between the communities.
“We are looking to purchase a second car ferry if this goes into effect,” he said.
He added Highway 4’s closure over the past two days has his phone ringing off the hook for passage.
“Things like yesterday happen and it plugs up the whole system,” he said. “We’ve had literally hundreds of calls for car service today.”
If the government’s blessing is granted, Surrell said it would likely take “a year to two years,” to put the necessary infrastructure in place, including car service ramps at each location.
Along with providing an additional transportation option for locals, Surrell suggested the service would be a big win for the West Coast’s tourism economy.
“It would be a phenomenal adventure for everybody,” he said. “I think it would dramatically increase the tourism of Ucluelet…For winter time as well, when the roads are icy and wet, it could also help out the local community.”