Bell Island -
Members of the Bell Island Ferry Users Committee will bring a wish list Wednesday to a meeting with provincial government officials in St. John's.
Ed Kent, who chaired a meeting Sunday afternoon at St. Michael's Hall on Bell Island, asked residents to give the committee some time to negotiate with government before taking other action.
More than 100 residents attended the meeting, with some suggesting staging a protest at Confederation Building before the 9:30 a.m. meeting Wednesday. Kent, however, said their MHA, Municipal Affairs Minister Dianne Whalen seems receptive to listening to their concerns and a protest at this stage could be "jumping the gun." He hopes government will offer something to improve the service.
Concerns over the service between Bell Island and Portugal Cove have escalated recently as a result of repeated vessel breakdowns, reduced service and restrictions on overtime hours for crew members.
The Beaumont Hamel, which had been servicing the run with the Flanders, is in St. John's waiting to undergo repairs. Kent said parts are being made in Finland to repair its thrusters, which prompted residents to question out loud why the parts can't be made in a local machine shop.
Kent said one problem for commuters who have to be to work early is that the Nonia, which is replacing the Beaumont Hamel for the next six weeks, doesn't sail from Bell Island until 8 a.m. The committee plans to ask government to immediately restore a 7:20 a.m. run.
Kelly Whelan said the ferries leaving Bell Island in the morning are never on time and on Sunday, there's no early service for shift workers like herself who are expected to report to work on time.
Kent said the auditor general came down hard on the province over money spent on overtime to crew members and, in response, there's been an overtime freeze, which has not only affected the hours of service but also means any maintenance is done during the day, causing further delays.
The committee will call on the government to lift these "rigid overtime restrictions," Kent said.
It also plans to suggest a two-shift system of 12 hours for crew members on the main ferry, allowing for overnight maintenance and continuous daytime service.
Katherine Walters, administrator of the Dr. Walter Templeman Health Centre on Bell Island, said the community is being torn apart over the ferry issue. She said health officials become concerned they've disrupted ferry service for others when they have to transfer a patient off the island.
Also, she said when a transfer is done late at night, half the hospital's ambulance services are off the island for the night because the ferry won't come back to Bell Island until the next morning. The island has only two ambulances.
MP Jack Harris, the only government representative at the meeting, spoke in support of the residents and said they need to deliver a message to the province that they want a commitment for a decent ferry service.
Harris said a feasibility study should be done to lay the groundwork for a long-term solution to this problem, looking at all options, including a fixed link or tunnel.