Corner Brook -
News of a large influx of federal funding aimed at enhancing and improving service at Marine Atlantic is welcome news for various groups in the province.
The federal government annou-nced Monday it would add $521 million over the next five years to a plan which now totals around $900 million for the Nova Scotia-Newfoundland and Labrador ferry service.
Highlights of the plan include a new terminal for North Sydney, as well as upgrades in port infrastructure and renovations to terminals in Port aux Basques and Argentia.
Combined with chartering two new ferries to replace the MV Caribou and MV Joseph and Clara Smallwood, Port aux Basques Mayor Brian Button said the funding is more than had been anticipated and he's happy to see money put into enhancing Marine Atlantic's infrastructure.
"Now we're seeing money that's going onshore to be able to do work at the existing ports," Button said from St. John's Tuesday. "In some cases, these ports haven't seen any actual real infrastructure done in a number of years. This money will certainly help."
He views the plan as a positive step for the town and proof the federal government and Marine Atlantic are committed to the area long-term despite occasional rumblings to the contrary.
"I keep telling people that the port of Port aux Basques will be the port of call and the gateway to the province," he said.
"Seeing money like this announced for this type of work only secures that and lets everyone know they're committed to the port of Port Aux Basques."
Button has been in meetings in St. John's for the last few days and has yet to hear full details of the specific plan for upgrades in Port aux Basques.
As someone who hasn't been shy to speak out about the service on the Gulf run in the past, Button said this is a time to give kudos, not criticism.
"You can't say anything negative when you see these types of things happening," he said.
"We've got to look at the positive things that are happening and the positives in the commitment to provide a good and reliable service to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. From that perspective, I feel a lot of encouragement in seeing that service delivered efficiently."
Meanwhile, Gord Peddle, past chairman of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association, said the announcement is good news for his organization, one which has been pushing for changes to the way in which Marine Atlantic goes about its business.
"Based on the announcement it appears as though they're going to enhance the facilities in North Sydney, Port aux Basques and Argentia, which is a positive," Peddle said. "They're replacing the Smallwood and the Caribou and that's another positive. And they're going to upgrade their IT service."
He said the biggest issue for his organization has been capacity and an inability of the ferry service to meet demands during peak periods such as the summer and Christmas. With this funding, combined with the new, higher capacity boats, Peddle hopes those complaints are addressed.
"Marine Atlantic's equipment hasn't been up to snuff, and it seems like whenever there's a weather problem, the boats are not effective enough to get them going flat out to catch up on the demand," he said. "But with 50 per cent more capacity and better boats, that should fix that problem."
Despite Monday's news, Peddle said this isn't the time for those affected by the service to become complacent and feel all the problems of the past have been solved with the stroke of a pen.
"We're talking a five-year strategy right now, but we need to be talking about a 10-year or even a 20-year strategy," he said.
"It appears they're doing what can be done today in the speed in which it can be done. Obviously, you can't just order two new boats off the shelf, but they should be in play by 2011.
"It's only so quick that you can build facilities and that kind of thing. I'd be more concerned about the longer-term strategy; that's what I'm more enticed to keep reminding everyone about."