Tale of two islands

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Barb Sweet
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Bell Island hopes meeting will help ferry problems; Fogo has its own fight

The Bell Island Ferry Users Committee says it had a positive meeting with area MHA Dianne Whalen Wednesday, but another island in the province is gearing up for a fight over its ferry service.

While Bell Island is trying to straighten out the kinks in its run, Fogo Island Regional Council chairman Gerald McKenna said in a phone interview Wednesday he's upset over a proposed plan to take the Earl Winsor off his island's run for maintenance, replacing it with the much smaller Beaumont Hamel.

Ed Kent (left) and Gary Gosine of the Bell Island Ferry Users Committee wait in the lobby of the west wing of the Confederation Building Wednesday morning for a meeting with Municipal Affairs Minister Dianne Whalen. - Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

The Bell Island Ferry Users Committee says it had a positive meeting with area MHA Dianne Whalen Wednesday, but another island in the province is gearing up for a fight over its ferry service.

While Bell Island is trying to straighten out the kinks in its run, Fogo Island Regional Council chairman Gerald McKenna said in a phone interview Wednesday he's upset over a proposed plan to take the Earl Winsor off his island's run for maintenance, replacing it with the much smaller Beaumont Hamel.

And he's unhappy he can't get a meeting with officials until after the switch is supposed to take place.

McKenna is threatening civil disobedience if nothing's worked out in time.

Whalen, who is also the province's municipal affairs minister, met with the Bell Island group for about an hour and 10 minutes Wednesday morning, Wabana Mayor Gary Gosine said.

"We're always trying to be as positive as we can with these people," Gosine said.

Officials from Transportation and Works were also at the meeting, but not Tom Hedderson, minister of that department.

The committee is hoping the department will restore a 7:20 a.m. run on the Bell Island service by the end of the week so residents can get to work on time from the island.

Gosine said he's also asked for the taped messages about the service to be updated properly, which he said "costs nothing."

Bell Islanders have been lobbying for years for improved service and will continue to do so, Gosine said.

Another issue is overnight medical emergency services, but some of the issues are tied to required periods of rest for crew and other Transport Canada rules. The committee wants the province to lift a freeze on overtime for ferry crews.

The Beaumont Hamel, one of two ferries on the run, has been awaiting repairs while the Nonia fills in, but there are still delays and there were 54 days last year when the service was down to one ferry.

"Our community cannot survive with one vessel," Gosine said.

"To have a reliable, dependable ferry service is the backbone of our community."

Whalen said she and Hedderson are trying to do the best they can for the people of Bell Island, adding they've arranged for medevac helicopter service for emergencies.

Whalen said she understands people are frustrated over concerns they might lose their jobs if they are late for work.

"These are things I can sympathize with them as their member," she said.

Other measures the province expects to put in place this summer will be a reshifting of the ferry lanes at Portugal Cove and having land-based pursers to make the ticket process go smoother.

The Beaumont Hamel is to be repaired in the next few weeks, but it is expected to be sent to Fogo Island to relieve the Earl Winsor while it is off for maintenance.

The Earl Winsor, which can hold 65 cars, has more than twice the capacity of the Beaumont Hamel, and the timing of the switch-off - May 1 according to McKenna - will imperil transportation, especially in terms of moving processed crab off the island during crab season, he said. It also comes at the beginning of tourist season. Once crab is over, there will be shrimp, then groundfish to be moved.

McKenna fears, based on past experience, that the six weeks the Earl Winsor is off the service will double if problems with maintenance arise.

He said the Earl Winsor, which also serves Change Islands, barely accommodates the traffic to and from the island as it is.

"It's the worst possible time of year," McKenna said.

He said the council learned of the plan for the Earl Winsor through the grapevine and got it confirmed by Transportation and Works.

"They didn't have the decency to contact our community," he said.

The council sought a meeting with officials in the regional office in Lewisporte and was told that couldn't happen until sometime after May 12, which would be after the switch takes place.

Then McKenna pitched a teleconference and was told that can't happen until May 10.

"This is unacceptable. Can you imagine?" he said.

The council is hoping something can be worked out for a more timely meeting and resolution of the issue, and plans to call a public meeting.

But if there's no solution, outraged people will have to take other action, McKenna said, such as chaining the Earl Winsor onto the wharf or lining its deck to prevent it from being removed from the service.

The Department of Transportation and Works was not available for comment Wednesday, nor did it confirm the plan for the Earl Winsor.

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Organizations: Bell Island Ferry Users Committee, Fogo Island Regional Council, Transport Canada Department of Transportation and Works

Geographic location: Bell Island, Wabana, Portugal Cove Fogo Island Change Islands Lewisporte

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Recent comments

  • brad
    September 21, 2010 - 13:20

    poor Danny hes got american blood in him now .......canadians call it greed

  • Henry
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    I agree with the committee that met with the minister and government officials. I also agree with Fogo's position. I personally believe that government, ferry users and transportation officials should always be a part of the mix when decisions are made. We might all be surprised when everyone sits down, what can be accomplished. Cooperation and communication is much more productive than fighting and arguing.

  • Citizen XIV
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    Here we have an island with little ability to support itself for the long term and one that relies on ferry service at the taxpayers expense. What right do these people have to live there just because their ancestors happened to come across it or because they built homes and communities? They are not as competitive as they need to be to justify their existence and are a burden on the more productive areas and people. As it is inefficient and has such a high level of unemployment, I say we should relocate its residents to a place where they are less expensive to service. I'm talking about Newfoundland by the way.

  • Relocation
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    By all means. Relocate the population of Newfoundland to Quebec. That should fix things for everyone. Then the oil companies can bring up the south Americans and Asians to run the rigs for a fraction of the operational costs creating higher revenue for a dead province. br br A perfect plan. Danny should be willing to sign on to that for sure.

  • Pierre Neary
    July 02, 2010 - 13:08

    What Mayor Gosine is asking for is not to much. He is correct when he states To have a reliable, dependable ferry service is the backbone of our community. The residents need better service. Good to see the government met with the committee and seems open to discussion for improvements.

  • Henry
    July 01, 2010 - 20:18

    I agree with the committee that met with the minister and government officials. I also agree with Fogo's position. I personally believe that government, ferry users and transportation officials should always be a part of the mix when decisions are made. We might all be surprised when everyone sits down, what can be accomplished. Cooperation and communication is much more productive than fighting and arguing.

  • Citizen XIV
    July 01, 2010 - 20:07

    Here we have an island with little ability to support itself for the long term and one that relies on ferry service at the taxpayers expense. What right do these people have to live there just because their ancestors happened to come across it or because they built homes and communities? They are not as competitive as they need to be to justify their existence and are a burden on the more productive areas and people. As it is inefficient and has such a high level of unemployment, I say we should relocate its residents to a place where they are less expensive to service. I'm talking about Newfoundland by the way.

  • Relocation
    July 01, 2010 - 19:45

    By all means. Relocate the population of Newfoundland to Quebec. That should fix things for everyone. Then the oil companies can bring up the south Americans and Asians to run the rigs for a fraction of the operational costs creating higher revenue for a dead province. br br A perfect plan. Danny should be willing to sign on to that for sure.

  • Pierre Neary
    July 01, 2010 - 19:43

    What Mayor Gosine is asking for is not to much. He is correct when he states To have a reliable, dependable ferry service is the backbone of our community. The residents need better service. Good to see the government met with the committee and seems open to discussion for improvements.