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Letters / Gas-powered ferries or fixed links?

The SIC are presently in possession of an offer of finance and a quote to build a tunnel to Whalsay, the price was £75 million in 2017 but will probably have risen a bit since then.

This latest offer is the third offer the SIC have refused, during the past decade even though SIC councillors voted in favour of the construction of tunnels nearly a decade ago.

Alternatively, SIC office staff have been working on successive transport consultations over the past two decades, on various options for ferry and terminal upgrades to the Whalsay ferry service.

Fixed link options, which appear to include the costs for all infrastructure and connecting roads; have been compared with SIC ferry option costs that appear to be totalled up without the inclusion of costs for shore-based infrastructure or connecting roads.

I have been informed that the last ferry terminal option investigated was a mainland terminal at Bonidale but as it has never been open to public scrutiny, I am not aware of its content; however, I have been informed that Bonidale ferry terminal proposals have been dismissed on numerous occasions over the past five decades.

Past transport link comparisons, also appear to have used ferry option calculations backdated to 2002 costs; before being compared against 2010 figures for a tunnel and in some cases cost estimates received from Norwegian tunnelling contractors were roughly doubled, before being presented to councillors; as estimated SIC cost figures for a Whalsay tunnel.

Now we are told a new option is being investigated: hydrogen gas-powered ferries. This latest option, should keep SIC office staff in employment on new consultations for many years into the future.

I hope that this time, they will produce a conclusive result in the end; as previous costly consultations have reached no conclusion over the past two decades, except perhaps that it is considered unaffordable for the SIC to continue to provide the same level of service.

The gas-powered ferry proposals are apparently presented as an eco-friendly option to reduce the extensive carbon footprint of the ferry services while, alternatively, gas is apparently not considered suitable as an eco-friendly option for producing electricity for our islands.

It will be interesting to see if the costs for the gas-powered ferries construction, are included in the calculations for the renewed ferry service proposals; and the costs for the considerable logistical consequences of providing gas at or near each mainland gas-ferry terminal, for the safe refuelling of the ferries; probably at night while no members of the public are on site.

Those calculations would need to be included; before the costs are compared to the cost estimates for fixed links, minus whatever cost increases the SIC officials may have sourced; for making up their own SIC tunnel cost estimate.

I have often wondered how the reliability of the SIC cost estimates, for the various options for the production of electricity for our islands would compare to the SIC officials’ cost estimates presented to the councillors for the Whalsay harbour and fish factory proposal and the Whalsay inter-Island’s transport links.

These are again my personal observations and have not, been shared with other members of the Whalsay Community Council.

William Polson
Whalsay

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