Bell Islanders want ferry solutions

Residents say vessel not enough fixed-link feasibility study suggested

Published on May 23, 2013

Justin Lahey and Paddy Ezekiel both wake up at 3 a.m. every weekday morning to make sure they can make it from Bell Island to St. John's so they can start work at 7 a.m.

With only one ferry - the MV Flanders - currently running for the last two weeks, it's the only choice they have.

As they waited in the ferry lineup in Portugal Cove early Wednesday evening, neither planned to attend the public meeting that night concerning the ferry service.

Expecting to be home by 7:30 p.m., they'd each have a bite to eat, maybe grab a shower, and then head straight to bed.

Lahey said he barely gets to see his children as a result.

Approximately 100 people were in attendance for the meeting at St. Augustine's Elementary School, which was organized by the Bell Island Ferry Users Committee.

It gave residents an opportunity to offer their own thoughts on what needs to be done to improve the service and to vent their frustrations.

Ken Kavanagh, born and raised on Bell Island, said asking the residents what should be done is shallow and amounts to a diversion tactic.

"Don't come crying to the community looking for solutions, when as far as I'm concerned, not you Dave," he said, referring to local MHA David Brazil, "but this government has ignored the solution."

Kavanagh said the province has "bungled" its strategy to replace ferries within its aging fleet.

Brazil said government is working to address the situation and said he could not speak to what happened before he became an MHA two years ago.

He said a request for proposals is set to be released today for two new boats to be built to serve the province.

He said the MV Grace Sparkes should also be back in service, following refits, within the next two weeks.

"The immediate needs are the things I have concerns about," said Brazil, "and that's what we're trying to address with what we're doing here tonight, and that's why we're open to engage people"

"For the last two years I've worked and fought for the people of this island, and we've looked towards moving the strategy forward, and we've gotten there. We've announced that two boats are about to be built. We've announced we've got three brokers out in the world market looking for new boats."

However, there remained concerns not enough is being done to address the short-term and long-term needs of residents.

Teresita McCarthy, a member of the users committee, also chairs the fixed-link committee on Bell Island.

She suggested a feasibility study is needed to consider an option other than more ferries.

"Surely, you can afford $50,000 to $75,000 to do a feasibility study," said McCarthy.

Brazil said he supports the feasibility study proposal, while Wabana Mayor Gary Gosine said he would rather see a new boat in place for Bell Island before consideration is given to building a road to connect the island to the rest of Newfoundland.

Tonya Kearley-Russell, a teacher on the island, said the ferry service's unreliability has turned residents against one another in some instances.

She recalled one such case where commuters said they would not allow schoolchildren to get on the ferry before themselves.

Stan MacDonald is willing to spend more than $100 on a hotel room if the ferry cannot get him back home to Bell Island for an evening, but he said that is not an option for every resident inconvenienced by issues with the ferry service.

Concerns were also expressed about what will happen if the MV Flanders breaks down given the province does not have a swing vessel at its disposal.

Max Harvey, assistant deputy minister for marine transportation services, said the province will look to reassign another vessel within its fleet if that happens.

He also referred to the Flanders as one of the province's most reliable vessels. Twitter: @TeleAndrew

The Bell Island ferry at the Portugal Cove dock. — Telegram file photo