Marine Atlantic upgrades on the way

Julie Collins
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More than $500 million announced for ferry services

The federal government is investing $521 million over the next five years to renew Marine Atlantic's fleet and improve shore facilities at the ports of North Sydney, and Port aux Basques and Argentia in Newfoundland.

North Sydney will get a new terminal building, upgrades to the dock area and new terminal equipment.

From left, Rob Crosbie, board of directors chairman for Marine Atlantic, Cecil Clarke, MLA for Cape Breton North, and Rob Merrifield, minister of state (transport) spoke at the ferry terminal in North Sydney after a funding announcement, Monday. Merrifiel

North Sydney -

The federal government is investing $521 million over the next five years to renew Marine Atlantic's fleet and improve shore facilities at the ports of North Sydney, and Port aux Basques and Argentia in Newfoundland.

North Sydney will get a new terminal building, upgrades to the dock area and new terminal equipment.

The design work is underway for the North Sydney site. Although it hasn't been decided, the area being looked at for the terminal is next to Commercial Street, which would provide access to the downtown.

The terminals and the dock facilities in Port aux Basques and Argentia will receive upgrades and new terminal equipment.

Most of the shore facility structures were built in the 1970s or early 1980s and require upgrades to continue to operate safely and efficiently.

In making the announcement in North Sydney Monday, Minister of State for Transport Rob Merrifield described the ferry service as a vital link between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

"Quality and reliability of service is important to this area," he said.

"When we were out last fall and talked to the shippers and the users, they told us we had two problems with Marine Atlantic - lack of capacity and lack of reliability. We are addressing both of those."

When added to the funds announced since 2007, the $521 million brings the total incremental government funding to the ferry service to almost $1 billion.

As part of this funding the government dedicated $12.5 million for shore-based priority projects under the Infrastructure Stimulus Fund in 2009.

In May, the federal government announced two new vessels to replace the aging MV Caribou and MV Joseph and Clara Smallwood. The MV Leif Ericson will undergo an extensive $18-million refit over the next year.

"This commitment provides us with the ability to plan a multi-year investment strategy that will result in the renewal of our fleet, terminal and other shore facilities thereby improving the quality and reliability of our service," said Rob Crosbie, chairman of the Marine Atlantic board of directors.

"We can now acquire the necessary assets to meet the corporation's mandate for this vital ferry service. Our ability to plan has never been better."

Sydney-Victoria MP Mark Eyking said the investment was necessary to satisfy the concerns about Marine Atlantic laid out in Auditor General Sheila Fraser's report released in November 2009, which highlighted the need for investment in the problem-plagued Crown corporation.

"It's a good day for Cape Breton," Eyking said.

"This much-needed infrastructure will hopefully improve service and boost tourism.

The auditor general pointed out the need for an investment in Marine Atlantic, so I am pleased that government is doing something about it."

Eyking said any new terminal and investment in the site requires safe, accessible access to downtown North Sydney.

"The current situation is not acceptable," said Eyking. "Hopefully this new capital will provide a more workable solution. I strongly urge Marine Atlantic to incorporate access to the town into any new terminal design, along with a pedway."

Cape Breton North MLA Cecil Clarke said having a new terminal facility constructed as part of the downtown core will allow tourists access to local businesses.

"When you have a five-year window of almost a billion dollars being invested in the transport infrastructure, but also the physical and, more importantly, the human infrastructure, this is the type of clarity we've been looking for and the types of infrastructure supports that are necessary to have a solid future. Not only for North Sydney, but for Newfoundland and Labrador."

He said the construction should mean a large number of jobs over the next few years.

"With over $900 million confirmed for five years for fleet upgrades, shore facility improvements and information technology infrastructure, I think we can look to the future with confidence."

Organizations: Marine Atlantic, Argentia, Infrastructure Stimulus Fund

Geographic location: North Sydney, Newfoundland and Labrador, Port aux Basques Commercial Street Nova Scotia Cape Breton

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  • Keith
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Re the MV Leif Ericson: is this the same one that was on the run when I was a kid (about 40 years ago)? Or another vessel with the same name? If it's the same one and is on the Gulf run, why would they replace the two newer vessels and upgrade the older one?

  • Barrellman
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    They could spend a billion dollars on Marine Atlantic, but if ferries the height and length of the Atlantic Vision can't get into and out of Port aux Basques, Newfoundland's primary gateway, because of wind conditions, what's the point. And before I go further: as a long-time ferry user the problem isn't Port aux Basques harbour; it's the size of the vessels M-A plans to charter. Here's a thought: instead of making a long-term spending commitment on European junk, M-O-T and Marine Atlantic need to get cracking on building new and improved CANADIAN ferries in a CANADIAN shipyard based on the proven seaworthiness, ice cap[ability and manueverability of the Caribou and Smallwood hull designs. Those hull plans are still around, aren't they, either at Ottawa or Davie Shipbuilding at Levis, Quebec?