Another boost for ferry services

Kerri Breen
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$84 million for infrastructure part of $521 million for Marine Atlantic

Federal Transportation Minister Rob Merrifield announced millions for Marine Atlantic Monday, bringing the federal government's commitment to revitalizing the ferry service to almost $1 billion since 2007.

Merrifield was in North Sydney Monday to formally announce the $521-million investment with Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay, who is also responsible for Nova Scotia, and Marine Atlantic officials.

The latest addition to Marine Atlantic's fleet, the Atlantic Vision, is shown in St. John's harbour. File photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

Federal Transportation Minister Rob Merrifield announced millions for Marine Atlantic Monday, bringing the federal government's commitment to revitalizing the ferry service to almost $1 billion since 2007.

Merrifield was in North Sydney Monday to formally announce the $521-million investment with Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay, who is also responsible for Nova Scotia, and Marine Atlantic officials.

The federal government had previously earmarked some of that money for two new Marine Atlantic ferries.

Monday's announcement included an additional $84 million over five years for upgrades to port infrastructure as well as the construction of a new terminal building in North Sydney and upgrades at both the Port aux Basques and Argentia terminal buildings.

Merrifield said consultations last fall in St. John's made the needs of the industry clear.

"The consultations in the fall told me two things: we needed on-time delivery and we needed more capacity."

Merrifield said the onshore investments will make the service more efficient.

The new vessels will nearly double Marine Atlantic's truck capacity, Merrifield said.

"This is going to be a fix not only for one or two years, but a decade or more," Merrifield said.

Marine Atlantic president and CEO Wayne Follett hinted at the funding and renewal at the Crown corporation in an interview with The Telegram in late May.

"This investment and five-year plan provides the necessary foundation to move the organization forward to the benefit of the people who use and depend on the ferry service," Follett said Monday. "There is much work to be done and the necessary changes will not occur overnight."

Gerri Howlett, an employee of Akita Equipment and Auto Transportation and a member of the Newfoundland and Labrador Small Trucking Industry lobby, wants to know why North Sydney got the new terminal, as opposed to Argentia or Port aux Basques.

She said Marine Atlantic should have waited for the new ferries before rolling out a reservation system several truckers have protested and spoken out against in the media.

Howlett is pleased about the fleet increase scheduled for next year, but said the reservation system is still going to give an advantage to larger truck operators that can book well in advance.

"The reservation system they have put in place is basically wiping out small trucking companies in Newfoundland," she said.

St. John's Board of Trade chairman Derek Sullivan said the board welcomes additional investment in Marine Atlantic "and the recognition of this service as a key economic trade corridor in Canada."

Merrifield said the ferry service is a key issue for Atlantic Canadians.

"We understand full well how important this is to those who use the ferry service," he said.

"And we also understand what terrible shape Marine Atlantic was when we got it," he said in reference to previous governments.

kbreen@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Marine Atlantic, Argentia, National Defence The Telegram Akita Equipment Newfoundland and Labrador Small Trucking Industry St. John's Board of Trade

Geographic location: North Sydney, Port aux Basques, Nova Scotia St. John's Newfoundland Canada

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