Heavy construction loads add weight to BC Ferries voyages to the Gulf Islands

As it turns out, the Salish Heron doesn’t have a weight problem, it’s just seeing a lot more heavy construction vehicles amid a construction boom in the southern Gulf islands.

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BC Ferries has been granted permission to carry more weight on the Salish Heron as an increasing number of heavy commercial vehicles use the ship to travel between Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island and the southern Gulf Islands.

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Lloyd’s Register notified BC Ferries on Friday that the vessel can now carry an additional 150 tonnes, which is the equivalent of about three more construction vehicles.

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Transport Canada has delegated Lloyd’s to act on its behalf. Classifies and certifies vessels and can approve special requirements for vessels.

BC Ferries made the request because heavy construction vehicles, which can weigh 60 tons or more when filled with aggregates, can consume much of the ferry’s weight allowance.

Earlier this month, the Salish Heron left Swartz Bay with empty deck space, leaving several motorists behind, after its commercial vehicle cargo exhausted its weight allowance. Those who were left behind had to wait four hours for the next navigation.

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Several large trucks carrying aggregates appeared on the Mayne Queen on Friday as it left Swartz Bay for stops at Saturna, Galiano and Mayne Islands.

Scott Wright of Mayne Island, who works as a carpenter on new homes and renovations, said the construction industry is “booming”: “Everyone seems to be building new homes. Since COVID, it has really taken off.”

Census data released in February identified the Southern Gulf Islands as one of the fastest growing areas in the country.

Population growth in the islands easily outpaced the rest of the province between 2016 and the most recent census in 2021. While BC grew by 7.6%, the southern Gulf Islands, excluding Salt Spring, had growth of 29%.

Mayne Island’s population increased 37.4% during that time, followed by Galiano Island at 33.7%, Saturna Island at 31.4%, South Pender at 30.2% and North Pender at 19, 4 %.

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Government infrastructure projects, such as road and trail works, are also contributing to commercial truck traffic to the islands.

Last month saw the second-highest volume of commercial vehicles in a month on the Swartz Bay-Southern Gulf Islands route since April 2009, BC Ferries spokeswoman Deborah Marshall said.

Braedon Bigham, owner of Braedon’s Big Digem Excavating and Trucking on Pender, said business is steadily increasing on the island. “Every year, we are busier and busier.”

When the pandemic hit, buyers bought property on the island and many moved to the islands, he said.

When questions were initially raised about the Salish Heron’s weight-carrying capacity, BC Ferries said it was considering trading the newer ship for an older Salish-class ferry.

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But the company found there wasn’t much point in making a change.

Bruce Paterson, BC Ferries’ director of naval architecture, said the difference in weight between the newer Salish Heron and the other Salish ferries equates to a difference in draft of about two centimeters – the distance between the waterline and the bottom bottom of the hull.

“From our perspective, there is no problem with the weight of the Salish Heron. It weighs what it’s supposed to weigh,” said Ed Hooper, BC Ferries executive director of shipbuilding. “She has the carrying capacity that we ask for.”

The contract for the Salish Heron was delivered according to BC Ferries specifications, he said, but the weight of the construction vehicles can quickly add up to a few hundred tons.

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Paterson added that construction vehicle traffic is episodic. “We go through this cycle right now where we have construction, we have road repair,” he said. “We have everything happening at the same time.”

When BC Ferries defines the weight a ship is supposed to carry, it looks at traffic statistics to get a perspective on what is required, he said.

If a ship were designed to carry too many heavy vehicles, it would be more boxy, which would translate to higher fuel consumption over the life of a ferry, he said.

BC Ferries also plans to apply for Lloyd’s permission to carry more weight on the other Salish-class ferries.

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