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Letter: Cadillac ferry service is more than we can afford

['<p><strong>OUT OF SERVICE – </strong>The MV Grace Sparkes will be out of service for at least a week after hitting a submerged rock just outside Burnside yesterday.</p>']
The MV Grace Sparkes — Telegram file photo

 

It’s been in the news lately that the cost of the ferry MV Grace Sparkes to St. Brendan’s is $6 million per year to operate, over $28.5 million to build, about $53,000 for every man, woman and child. That is a lot of money and has been going on since 2011, when the boat went into service. This has been largely ignored until the story was aired by Terry Roberts on CBC’s “Here and Now.”

I have been well aware of this blunder by the Progressive Conservative government since this boat went into operation, because the sister ship MV Hazel McIsaac is in my backyard, serving the islands of Long Island and Little Bay Islands. These two ferries were built without much thought as to the cost to build and operate — $28.5 million each and when put in service had a crew of 10 per shift plus one person on each wharf to catch the lines, and these ships use a lot of fuel.

The last four ferries that were built by the PC government were too expensive for the short ferry runs in this province. All people wanted was a way to get back and forth, not a cruise ship.

These boats were too big for dwindling populations on these islands.  The government at that time was spending money without any thought for tomorrow.

The Island Joiner, which used to service Long Island, had a crew of four. It was the ideal boat for that run and the residents of Long Island loved it and wish she was still there.

Back to St. Brendan’s — this is not the people of St. Brendan’s fault but the politicians who just don’t know how to manage our tax dollars. When you put a ferry in service that takes a crew of 20 to operate, to service an island of fewer than 150 people, there is something drastically wrong.

I am all for letting the people on these islands having a good ferry service, but it must be done at a reasonable cost. It just goes to show that government is not capable of running business enterprises such as ferry services and Muskrat Falls.

I criticized these ferries when they were built and always said that the ferry service in this province should be privatized and run by people who know the business.

The last four ferries that were built by the PC government were too expensive for the short ferry runs in this province. All people wanted was a way to get back and forth, not a cruise ship. It’s like a taxi service — instead of buying a Chev, they bought Cadillacs. Not a good business decision.

To St. Brendan’s Mayor Veronica Broomfield and the other islanders, you and your people should be allowed to stay as long as you want to, but it must be done at a reasonable cost. We are living in a very difficult financial situation because politicians have been spending money that we don’t have. We have got to learn to live on what we need and not what we want, as our forefathers did.

The first ferries I rode on were from Woody Point to Norris Point before the road was connected around the arm going to the Northern Peninsula. They would go as soon as they had a load. This past summer I made two trips to Fogo Island and I can understand their frustrations — going and coming, the ferry would be waiting long periods after unloading before loading for the return trip with a full load on the ramp. As one captain said to me, if they were loading and going, there would not be a problem on this island; there’s, plenty of capacity but too much time tied up to the wharf.

Steve Crocker, the minister of transportation, made the comment when questioned by the news media about the Bell Island fiasco that we are going according to the collective agreement — in other words, letting the unions run the ships. That is no way to run a service where the people are held captive by the workers providing the service. 

As to the people on Bell Island with medical problems who have to exit their vehicles regardless of their conditions and suffering, I say to the politicians, we have all kinds of regulations but we are not allowed to use common sense. That word seems to have vanished from our vocabulary.

 

Capt. Wilfred Bartlett, retired

Green Bay South

wilfbartlett@hotmail.com

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