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The Globe and Mail

Cost of new Vancouver float-plane terminal: $18.5-million

Greg MacDougall CEO of Harbour Air flies his float plane in for a landing in Vancouver's harbour front May 17, 2011.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

A controversial float-plane terminal set to open Wednesday will cost less than an oft-cited price of $22-million, provincial tourism minister Pat Bell says.

"Twenty-two million is not the right number," Mr. Bell said Friday, adding that the province had recently reviewed the Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre project. "I know that's the number some people are referring to, but that is not actually what it cost to do it."

In a news release last year and in subsequent media reports, VHFC said the terminal cost $22-million. Some recent media reports put the price at $18-million. On Friday, VHFC chairman Graham Clarke said the cost was $18.5-million.

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But Mr. Clarke said the lower cost won't necessarily translate into lower rental fees for operators, saying that VHFC had already passed on rent breaks it received from its landlord, BC Pavilion Corp.

"The only way [fees]can go lower is if some level of government wishes to make an infrastructure commitment or some funding," Mr. Clarke said, adding that the project applied for such grants in the past but did not receive any.

Design elements such as an elevator platform, environmental studies and anchoring systems all contributed to the cost of the facility, Mr. Clarke said.

The Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre, scheduled to open May 25 at the north end of the Convention Centre expansion, will replace a nearby temporary facility that has been operating since 2004.

Seaplane operators complain that the rental fees are too high, while VHFC insists they partly reflect the cost of the new terminal.

Mr. Bell used a lower price after he was asked why the project is costing $22-million when preliminary estimates for a new floating terminal in Victoria are $3.5-million. There has been misinformation on both sides of the debate, he said.

"I find it unfortunate that there are a lot of statements being made that are totally inaccurate in terms of their presentation," he said. "I worry when I see politically motivated websites and e-mail campaigns. There's no place for that in a commercial negotiation, and it disappoints me that people would resort to that sort of tactic."

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The Vancouver Commercial Seaplane Operators Association - headed by Greg McDougall, who is also chief executive officer of Harbour Air Seaplanes - has taken its fight against fees being charged at the terminal to social media and a Save our Seaplanes website that urges supporters to sign a petition and e-mail Mr. Bell.

Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre is a joint venture between the Clarke Group of Companies and the Ledcor Group of Companies.

The VCSOA was formed to lobby against what it described as a per-trip fee of $12 to use the new terminal. Earlier this month, two seaplane operators - who say they've previously been shut out of the Vancouver market - broke ranks and signed up to use the new terminal at a $9.50-per-passenger rate.

Float-plane operators have muddied the issue by implying that there is not currently a cost to use terminal facilities, Mr. Bell said Friday.

"There's always been a cost to the float-plane operators to maintain their facilities," he said. "The difference isn't between zero and $12, it's between whatever it was costing them previously and probably a lot less than $12."

The province has appointed B.C. Hydro chair Dan Doyle to help broker a deal between the parties. An estimated 350,000 to 400,000 float-plane passengers fly in and out of Vancouver Harbour each year.

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