Michael Squires lives on Bell Island but recently started a job in St. John's, so he's familiar with the complications that can arise when relying on the ferry to commute to work.
"I fully understand what everyone goes through now," said Squires, seated in his vehicle in Portugal Cove waiting for the MV Flanders to arrive Monday afternoon.
Jan van Hogerwou, Damen Shipyard’s manager for North American operations, leaves a news conference Monday after taking part in the announcement of a new ferry for Bell Island. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
He's hopeful the long lineups and mechanical issues will become a thing of the past in light of the fact that Damen Shipyards of Norway will build a new 80-metre vessel to replace the MV Beaumont Hamel.
Transportation and Works Minister Nick McGrath said the new ferry is scheduled to be ready for service in February 2016. Its specifications match those of a new ferry recently announced for Fogo Island and Change Islands that Damen Shipyards is also contracted to build.
Valued at $49.5 million, the new vessel will hold 200 passengers and 60 vehicles at capacity, almost double the capacity of the MV Beaumont Hamel with respect to both categories. The government previously announced $10 million in spending for wharf upgrades to accommodate a new vessel.
Stewart King was born on Bell Island but no longer lives there, though he still visits regularly. With the increased capacity, he expects that even if the Flanders encounters problems and temporarily leaves the island with a one-vessel service, the situation will not be as dire in comparison to previous years.
"She'll clean up the backlog pretty fast," he said while waiting in the lineup to board a ferry to Bell Island on Monday.
Ed Kent, a consultant with the Bell Island Ferry Users Committee for close to 30 years, said the new vessel will give Bell Island a chance to rejuvenate its economy and give commuting residents greater flexibility.
"We've got 500 people that commute back and forth to Bell Island. Lately they've been up at 3 or 3:30 a.m. to get the 6 a.m. ferry, because if they don't get down there early ... even if they have priority, still they can't get on. They're into 12- or 14-hour days. We're losing business opportunities over there because everyone realizes it takes too long to get on a boat. For tourism in the summer time, we don't hardly encourage people to come over anymore, because they'll have to wait so long."
Conception Bay East MHA and Bell Island resident David Brazil said moving more people to and from the island will also benefit Portugal Cove-St. Philip's, given its role as the gateway to Bell Island.
"That opens up opportunities within these communities for economic growth," said Brazil. "We need to develop better partnerships between Portugal Cove-St. Philip's, Paradise and the Town of Wabana and the whole of Bell Island."
If all goes well with the new vessel, Squires expects there's a good chance he will continue to live on Bell Island. However, if issues encountered in the past fail to disappear, the young man wonders whether he will need to move to ensure making it to work is never at the whim of the ferry service.
"If it gets worse, I might have to move to St. John's," said Squires.
The Department of Transportation and Works has scheduled a news conference today for an announcement concerning ferry services in Labrador.