Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Podunk Below the Masthead, Monday, May 4, 2009

A tour of the Northern Expedition, an increase in taxes gets an airing and the EI rates in Rupert are down but don't really tell the whole story, all part of the Monday edition of the Daily News.

OVER ONE THOUSAND TAKE THE TOUR OF THE NEW B. C. FERRY-- Rupertites took in the good weather over the weekend with a trip to the waterfront and a chance to take a tour of the newest vessel in the BC Ferry fleet the Northern Expedition. BC Ferries hosted over one thousand residents on Saturday as they examined the decks and amenities of the new ferry.

The Ferry corporation put on the open house as a way to introduce the new vessel to the North coast as it prepares to take on the Port Hardy to Prince Rupert run, a look at the full article can be found below.

The paper also examined the debate last week at city council as the city's councillors discussed the pending rise in municipal taxes by 3.8 per cent, the most contentious part of the debate was the factoring in of potential taxes from the Watson Island pulp mill, though there hasn't been a tax payment made on the mill in a number of years. Adding potential revenues from the mill didn't sit well with Councillor Sheila Gordon-Payne, but she was the lone dissenting voice on that issue. Council discussed the options available and in the end chose the path of increased taxation in order to keep many of the services currently in place such as the library, civic centre and such operating as they have been for the most part in the last few years.

More number crunching was featured in the Monday edition, this time with the release of the EI figures from February of 2008 to 2009, which show that Prince Rupert had the lowest increase in the North with an increase of only 4 per cent. Though interpreting those numbers may be a tad complicated, the main cause for the low result for Rupert's EI rate is most likely the fact that the recession has caught up to other areas in the Northern region, making for huge jumps in those locations which previously were doing well. Rupert having been mired in the ongoing downturn for more than seven years, more than likely doesn't have much more room to play with when it comes to job losses, with the bulk of the major industries having long since shed their workforce, leaving those that were on claims previously to find other forms of support beyond the EI program.

The Sports section featured details of the CHSS and PRSS girls soccer teams efforts over the weekend, while Rupert's high school golfers also had their weekend of play outlined.

Total pages in the Monday edition 12

Front page headline story...

And there can be no question – it is a jewel
By George T. Baker
Prince Rupert Daily News
Monday, May 4. 2009
Pages one and five

There have been many things written and spoken about BC Ferries' newest vessel of the ocean, the Northern Expedition.

But one thing should be made clear - the boat itself is visually stunning. From the panoramic views of the bridge down to theatre-like TV room, no fault can be found in the design of the boat's interior.

According to BC Ferries President and CEO, David Hahn, the boat's design is all part of the company's invigorated efforts to attract a strong tourism market.

"It's about rebuilding a business that British Columbians deserve and expect," said Hahn, who attended the unveiling of the boat's interior on Saturday.

Hahn was joined by a contingent composed of the planning team, the ship's crew and local administration including Capt. Stephen Poole and Matthew Burns.

The event was billed as an opportunity for locals to see first-hand how the new boat will look when in full operation and first indications are that it will be a comfortable setting for a full day trip.

The improvements to the staterooms over what was available on the Queen of Prince Rupert, for example, were noticeable. The new sleeping quarters provide passengers with comfy beds and telephone access.

The boat has two passenger decks, which offer customers two options for dining - the Canoe Cafe and the Vista Restaurant. The Vista is a restaurant that will provide 'tablecloth' service, and it's a service that would be likely to make any tourist a happy diner.

The vessel's captain, Lance Lomax, was on hand Saturday to introduce curious locals about the vessel's bridge.

Lomax, who also participated in the decommissioning of the Queen of Prince Rupert, said that his operations on the Expedition would be safer and more efficient, with airtight surroundings and new high tech navigational equipment.

"There were times on the Queen of Prince Rupert that our bridge door would swing open after a strong gust and the papers would just start flying all over the place,' said Lomax.

On the bridge, Lomax will have a 180-degree view of the ocean, which could come in handy as he navigates the 20-knot ship through coastal channels between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert.

"We have a great deal more control over [this] ship than the Queen of Prince Rupert,' acknowledge an excited Lomax.

The bridge also includes closed circuit monitoring of activities on the ship so that the vessel's pilots are aware of what's happening on board just as much as they are aware of what's occurring off board.

And that's a plus because the ship will have a gift shop and jewelry area available for tourists and British Columbians interested in owning a piece of B.C. art or, in some cases, hanging it around their neck.

There are necklaces, rings, carvings and paintings that range in price from $61-to-$300, according to BC Ferries' Communications Manager, Deborah Marshall, this was an opportunity for the ferry operator to access another market with a captive customer base.

"People will be on board for a long trip and while they may not jump on this right away, they will have the opportunity through the voyage to mull it over and - hopefully - they will be convinced to purchase a piece of B.C. art."

As for how "green" the ship will be, the 600-rpm engines will burn one-to-two tons of diesel per hour. That would work out to 32 to 35 tonnes of diesel burned for the average trip.

But the ship has been set up with an 'ahead of the curve' water ballast system to reduce harmful waste from seeping out into the pristine North Coast waters.

"We are trying to stay ahead of future regulations," said ship engineer Darren Wilson.

The ship was built by Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft. That caused some flack in the province as there were some who felt the boat should have been locally made.

Politics aside, there is no doubt the ship makers got the passenger area right.

According to figures released by Marshall, a total of 1,318 locals paid a visit to the new ferry and the ferry operator's top dog hoped locals realized his company's vision for the long term.

"The biggest thing right now is, you have to get the right vessels," said Hahn.

While tourism numbers are down across the province, and long trip tourists like Europeans and Asians have dropped, Hahn hopes that it will be British Columbians who took advantage of the ship's voyage instead of rushing off to Alaska.

"The [tourism] market is going to be different. But we have a very safe and affordable vessel and in the near term the Port Hardy-to-Prince Rupert trip will be a real boon for British Columbians."

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