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Ferry days are numbered, but where is replacement?

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In Indigenous
Feb 27th, 2011
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By Sharon Weatherall Midland Free press Feb 22 2011
The days are numbered for ‘Sandy Graham’ – a 98 passenger/28 vehicle vessel purchased in 1998 by Indian & Northern Affairs (INAC) as an ‘interim’ solution to service Christian Island.
Having sustained various structural damages over the years the vessel’s hull plate is no longer functioning at full strength and Beausoleil First Nation authorities do not know how much longer the 50 year old barge will last.
“If the ferry broke down and could not be fixed it would leave this community in crisis. There’s also the health and safety of the vessel. The hull is now at only 70 percent strength due to age and anything could happen,” said BFN Chief Roly Monague.
“It’s going to take an unforeseen situation to get them to look at this and we are doing everything we can to get something done. It is a safety situation and it needs attention now.”
Monague says damages to the hull have occurred when the ferry can’t stop and hits the dock. On the recommendation of Transport Canada it must be repaired to safely operate until it goes to dry-dock in 2012 – a thorough inspection process that’s required every five years. To repair the hull BFN was instructed to have the plate strengthened with concrete – a costly process which is covered by INAC.
Monague says he does not understand why they keep putting money into an aging ferry when that money could be used for a new one and the time consuming and costly application process for funding continues. The band been trying to rectify the problem for over a decade and a half but does not have over $20 million for a new ferry.
BFN chiefs, council and a project team have been negotiating with INAC actively since 1998 to replace the aging interim ferry with a new ferry and docks with no results. Over the years there have been applications submitted to the various government programs including most recently to Public Private Partnership (P-3) and Canada PPP, which are pending but not probable.
P-3 is a Canada Fund focused on provincial, territorial, municipal and First Nations public private partnership infrastructure projects and a long-term performance-based approach for procuring public infrastructure where the private sector assumes a major share of the responsibility in term of risk and financing for the delivery and the performance of the infrastructure, from designing the concept, architectural and structural planning to its long term maintenance.
The program involves tendering of the design, construction, operation and financing (DBFM) of a new service in exchange for a long term concession to receive revenues related to the ferry service. P3 would allow BFN to apply for up to 25% of the capital cost of a new ferry to the then newly-created PPP Canada.
After another rejection for funding in 2010, BNF hired a consultant at a high cost to oversee a Pre-feasibility Study to compare cost of P-3 funding for a bridge in comparison to P-3 funding for a ferry. They met this month to come up with definite numbers but Monague remains sceptical.
“To go with a private partner meant changing the way we do business – it would put a lot of people out of work. A private partner would hire their own staff and change fees,” said Monague indicating that no one was looking at funding ferries now anywhere.
“It’s a waiting game now to see if INAC will go for the application. We have documented everything and the new information with all the break downs and costs. Are we going to continue to put money into an old ferry with the new plate? Any other ferries after 30 years are put out of commission so it doesn’t make sense.”
Monague says the concept of building an extension bridge makes sense as a solution but even if a private partner could be found it would take ten or 15 years to complete a bridge during which time BFN would still need another ferry for the interim. In a 2004 study construction of a 2.5 kilometre bridge from the lighthouse on the island to Cedar Point would have cost $80 million plus – the idea was explored originally in 1984.
The island community depends on ferry transportation to survive and needs a safe, dependable vessel to meet the everyday needs of the people. BFN Ferries Coordinator Arnold Jamieson Jr. says the band has been ready for one for ten years.
“We need one with ice breaking capabilities that can transport vehicles. The life span of a ferry is 35 years. The Sandy Graham was made in 1955 and way over due. The Indian Maiden is a 25 year old ice passenger ferry with ice breaking capabilities and it has proven its capabilities by keeping the community functioning though winter,” said Jamieson.
“Still when the Sandy Graham vehicle barge goes down or is docked for the winter it can make things inconvenient for the community. Usually when that happens we try to give the community a days notice but this year they got just an hour due to a flash freeze. Last year we were lucky and the Sandy Graham ran all winter.”
Jamieson says while the ferries run by daily schedule it is not unusual for that schedule to be interrupted for break downs or emergency runs which sometimes up to seven per day as well as calls anytime throughout the night.
“We could get a call halfway through a run and have to turn around and go back,” said Jamieson.
Rebecca Monague at Christian Island Elementary School says when the ferry goes down it can leave you feeling stranded especially if you had something important to do.
“You just have to wait until the next day. Wednesday is maintenance day and everyone knows that. Relatively it’s on and off especially with the ice. This year an incident shut it down immediately but that doesn’t happen too often. They usually try to fix it as quickly as possible the same day – the crew are pretty good and they know what they are doing,” said Monague.
“A different perspective would be people waiting on the mainland when for some reason the ferry doesn’t come. Now they have new digital signs for updates on delays and emergency situations etc. Also the ferry coordinator sends updates to people with cell phones to keep them updated. They are working together to keep people informed. When you are living here you just get used to it. It can be a tight schedule but its all part of living on an island.”
As receptionist at the school Monague says it changes things at the school when teachers from the mainland can’t get over to teach.
“That’s when we have to scatter but luckily we have enough EA’s here on the island that we can make do when that happens,” said Monague.
Resident Kim Robinson is still getting used to a life that revolves around ferry transportation. She says it takes planning and schedule coordination.
“When you are off the island at the movies or some kind of recreation or appointment you have to coordinate your time and plan to the last minute to come back or you might miss a boat,” said Robinson.
“If you need something that the store does not have it’s not like running to the mall – it takes four hours to go to town. When the barge doesn’t run you have to plan how much you can carry or arrange for a pick-up at the dock. It can restrict people because you can’t do anything on the spur of the moment. I moved here almost two years ago and it took some getting used to for me at first.”

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