White Rock residents with a hankering to visit the Gulf Islands will have to wait a little longer to learn if they’ll have access to a quicker way of getting there starting in May.
City manager Peggy Clark confirmed last month that city staff are continuing to negotiate an agreement with Discovery SeaTours’ Peter Stolting for a seasonal sightseeing and whale-watching service proposed to run between White Rock pier and Saturna Island.
Council gave the service a thumbs-up in July, with a 5-2 vote. Approval was conditional, with provision of indemnity insurance and negotiation of a lease agreement among stipulations that had to be met.
In a presentation on Sept. 19, Stolting assured council he had appropriate insurance, but was hopeful there was opportunity to go lower on the city’s proposed lease rate of $75 per week. At Saturna Island, where the vessel is moored, Stolting said he pays $53 per month. He does not plan to moor in White Rock.
“I don’t want a free ride by any means,” Stolting said. “Seventy-five dollars a week is a bit high… a lot higher than anywhere else.”
According to Stolting, the service he plans to offer will get passengers the 22 nautical miles from White Rock pier to Saturna in 45 minutes. The shortest route currently offered by BC Ferries from the Tsawwassen terminal takes more than two hours.
“For the weekend crowd, that would be very beneficial,” Stolting said, referring to the Discovery schedule.
Proposed to operate from May 24 through September, with trips from Friday to Sunday at 1 and 4 p.m., the service could be expanded depending on demand, he added.
In a report to council, Paul Stanton, the city’s director of planning and development services, said staff support Stolting’s proposal “because it provides another attraction for day tourists to the White Rock waterfront area as an economic development initiative.”
Any economic and environmental impacts will be minor, the report notes.
Coun. Mary-Wade Anderson, who voted against the proposal in July, reiterated her doubts to Stolting.
“In the past when we’ve entertained this… we’ve been very disappointed,” she said.
Couns. Helen Fathers and Doug McLean both questioned if the service was safe.
“What happens if somebody dies in the water?” Fathers asked, to which Stanton replied the applicant would have to carry adequate insurance to cover the city in the event of any accident or damage.
Stolting noted he already carries $2 million worth and would increase that to at least $5 million.
Regarding environmental impact, Stolting was confident his service wouldn’t have any. The vessel involved will be a nine-metre, fully enclosed, 12-passenger rigid-hull inflatable.
At half the depth of a sailboat, “it won’t be doing any environmental impact,” he said.