News

After years of effort, ferry remains

A number of derelict vessels, including an old BC Ferry, dot the river’s edge in Mission. - Tyler Olsen
A number of derelict vessels, including an old BC Ferry, dot the river’s edge in Mission.
— image credit: Tyler Olsen

Moored just off the Mission shoreline, the ferry once known as the Queen of Sidney strikes an apocalyptic pose. Gnawed by rust, muddied by grime, the boat has haunted the Fraser River for years.

But while the District of Mission has long tried to get rid of the ferry, it continues to deteriorate, in part because of the province’s insistence on taking a cut of the sale of the 102-metre-long boat.

The ferry is just one of several vessels in varying states of repair at the site off Cooper Road. Some have long lost any buoyancy. While the wreckage – which is owned by Bob and Gerald Tapp – draws sightseers and moviemakers, it has frustrated District of Mission officials, who are powerless because they lack jurisdiction over the river.

The adjacent farmland, also owned by the Tapps, is an “environmental nightmare,” Agriculture Land Commission’s (ALC) Ron MacLeod says.

But Gerald Tapp, who cites the Magna Carta and bears grudges against a range of politicians and officials, is just as negative about his dealings with various governments.

“I want them to get off my back,” Tapp says. “There’s so much going on behind the scenes that you don’t know.”

In 2012, with the river spilling its banks, the provincial government declared an environmental emergency amid concerns that the hulking ferry and six other vessels would break loose and cause havoc downstream.

The boats were secured at significant cost by driving pilings deep into the riverbed.

Two years later, despite joint efforts to dismantle and scrap the vessels by the ALC, the Tapps, and an unnamed financial group, the boats continue to deteriorate.

The ministry of environment says the ALC made contact in January to ensure all requirements for the disposal of the vessels were being met. Instead, the ministry says the salvaging of the ferry was halted because the government is trying to recover money owed by the Tapps.

“Liens placed on the Queen of Sidney by the province, as a result of unpaid cost recovery, prevented initial dismantling,” a ministry spokesperson wrote in an email.

Mission Mayor Ted Adlem had heard of plans to try and dispose of what he calls “that old stinking ferry.”

Told that liens imposed by the ministry of environment might have scuttled plans to rid Mission of the ferry, Adlem says: “That seems kind of haywire.”

He suggested the ministry should partner directly with the salvage company.

But to avoid a lengthy legal case, that would likely require co-operation from the Tapps. And there lies the crux of the issue.

••••

After 40 years of service, the Queen of Sidney was retired in November of 2000. The Tapps bought it two years later for $100,000, moved it up the Fraser River to its current resting place, and renamed it the Bad Adventure.

The name suits the vessel’s current state and the company it keeps. Sandwiched between the ex-Queen of Sidney and the shore, another former ferry, the San Mateo, sits partially submerged at an uncomfortable angle.

Gerald Tapp, 77, doesn’t seem to have any particular emotional investment in his Bad Adventure.

Over the years, he says thieves have stolen tens of thousands of dollars worth of material from the Cooper Road site and the adjacent boats. But Tapp is deeply suspicious of any action by governments, be they federal, provincial or municipal.

Tapp has had his share of court battles and has been sued by the Township of Langley at least twice. In 2002, he was ordered to pay $100,000 for cleaning up an unsightly property near the Fort Langley Airport. A township lawyer says that money has yet to be paid.

Calling various governments “totally crooked,” Tapp is still suspicious about the decision to secure his boats two years ago. He says he received a $205,000 bill for the 2012 work. He has yet to pay it.

Tapp speaks with similar doubt about the company that  offered $250,000 to salvage the vessel earlier this year. Tapp says he and his brother quashed the deal because of concerns about insurance and a general distrust of the situation.

••••

As a compliance officer with the ALC, MacLeod is familiar with the Tapps, whom he describes as “fickle.”

The Tapps’ land between the Fraser and the dike is in the Agriculture Land Reserve but cluttered with vehicles in various states of repair. The ALC’s interest lies in cleaning up that mess and returning the land to a farmable state. But doing so won’t be easy, MacLeod says.

“The land will have to be rehabilitated.”

MacLeod would like any company that scraps the boats to repair the land at the end of their work. But gaining co-operation with the Tapps is difficult, he says.

Three companies have expressed interest in salvaging the vessels, MacLeod says. One wanted to tow the ferry to Asia, while the other two planned to scrap them on-site.

“The stumbling block is the Tapps, and their stumbling block is down to the liens on the vessels.”

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. MacLeod says he has spoken to ministry of finance officials who expressed a willingness to bend to suit the owners of the boats.

••••

The ex-Queen of Sidney and the Tapps’ other unseaworthy vessels aren’t the only derelict boats haunting the Fraser around Mission.

In late May, a barge belonging to a scrap metal recycling business caught fire near Silverdale. After several days under the watch of the Canadian Coast Guard, the blaze burned itself out.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada spokesperson Carrie Mishima says the vessel’s owner “has plans underway to deconstruct the vessel.”

There are other derelict boats in the area and given the ferry’s profile, one might expect the federal government, which has jurisdiction over river transportation, to become involved.

In 2012, Transport Canada produced a 25-page report on “the extent of abandoned and derelict vessels” in 2012. The department says it identified 245 such vessels in British Columbia alone. Since 2012 it, along with the province, the Union of British Columbia Municipalities and the Island Trust have convened an “inter-jurisdictional working group” that meets regularly “to discuss issues related to problem vessels.”

But when queried by the News, a Transport Canada spokesperson said the department isn’t aware of any such boats near Mission.

••••

On a recent Thursday, sparks flew as a worker cut metal off a vessel moored in front of the ex-Queen of Sidney. It was slow work with no end in sight, in keeping with the years-long effort to rid the Fraser of boat graveyard.

“At some point, the Queen of Sidney will be dismantled,” Abbotsford-Mission MLA Simon Gibson says.

MacLeod also sounds vaguely optimistic.

“We’ve made some progress, but we’re going to have to step up our efforts,” he says.

But local fishing guide Radek Hanus just wants to see the boats gone.

Hanus says many clients want to get a close look at the old ferry.

“People like looking at it from a distance,” he says. But the closer you get, the uglier the scene becomes as half-sunk, rotting boats creep into view.

“Cleaning it up would provide a better image for the area and the river itself,” Hanus says. “People say British Columbia is beautiful and natural. There’s not a heck of a lot natural about those vessels.”

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