‘Mix-up’ over water taxi contract: SD70

Alberni Valley School district scrambles to explain huge rise in costs for former water taxi contract on West Coast.

The $100,000 jump in providing water taxi service between Meares Island and Tofino will be the subject of a meeting between the Alberni Valley school district and the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations next week.

Last week, the Alberni Valley News reported that it cost the district $400,000 to take up to 35 students on a 10-minute water taxi ride between the Village of Opitsaht to their school in Tofino. This cost was an increase from $306,000 two years ago.

The News has since learned the number of students is closer to 26 and the school attendance rate for students living in Opitsaht is poor.

“The two boats that were coming over were half-full,” said superintendent Cam Pinkerton. He called the situation a “misunderstanding” with the water taxi operator and not an overcharging.

“He was charging us per kid but the contract was for per trip.”

The boat has a capacity of up to 12 students per trip. Pinkerton could not explain how two half-full boat trips and the occasional extra trips for special events can equal $400,000.

Pinkerton said the school board only learned about this oversight earlier this year after a review of all school district expenses was conducted. This review was ordered after the province slashed its funding for the school district.

The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations was contracted to provide water taxi service eight years ago, which they in turn subcontracted to an individual. It was a five-year contract which was extended for one year three times.

The water taxi bill was $306,000 in the 2009-2010 budget, jumping to $410,000 in 2010-2011 and remaining about the same last year.

Upon learning about the discrepancy, the school district put the water taxi contract out to tender. Pinkerton added that it was officials with the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation that requested this meeting.

SD 70 secretary-treasurer Lindsay Cheetham said a new five-year, water taxi contract has been awarded to West Coast Aquatic Safaris. Details of the new contract, which Cheetham said is “less” than the previous one and will start in September, was not made public by newspaper deadline. Pinkerton said those details will be released once the contracts are officially signed.

reporter@albernivalleynews.com