Chi-Cheemaun to open season on time, despite water level concerns

OWEN SOUND—The Owen Sound Transportation Company is still scheduled to begin the 2013 sailing season for the M.S. Chi-Cheemaun (between South Baymouth and Tobermory) on May 3, while continuing its discussions in regards to concerns due to low water levels with Transport Canada and the Canada Hydrographic Service.

“The Canada Hydrographic Service does not do any dredging; they do work such as navigational charting and the last time they did work in our area was in 2003,” said Susan Schrempf, CEO of OSTC, in an interview with the Recorder on Monday. “They said they will be doing work in this area, but not before July.”

“If they can get us on their list for work to be done, they would do a bathymetry study,” said Ms. Schrempf. This would entail a measurement of the depth in the water. “We can’t tell what is contained at the bottom of the channel (near the docks) and this bathymetry would give us colour images to accurately determine how deep the water is in the area of the ship docking.”

She pointed out water levels will be at their peak by July, noting there is no water level gauges at South Baymouth. “The bathymetry will tell us how deep the water depths are in various areas of the channel. It would provide far more detailed information than we have now.”

“Right now we are talking back and forth to Transport Canada, and this will continue. They know we are on a timeline,” said Ms. Schrempf. She said with spring runoff, and by the date of the first sailing of the Chi-Cheemaun, “the water levels should rise by five inches, which is still 10 inches lower than last year.”

Ms. Schrempf explained, “we have been watching the water levels carefully for the past three years. The problems we had last year were an indication of problems to come and has to do with the fendering system at the docks. That is why we are having discussions with the Transport Ministry as they are the owners of the facility.”

“This all has to do with the rub rails on the ship which protects it from structural damage,” the CEO continued. “It has to make contact with the fender to provide protection for the ship. If the rub rails are so low in the water that it could go below the fenders, there would be a problem. The last thing we want is for the rub rail to be under the fender because it would cause serious damage to the ship structure.”

Ms. Schrempf added the OSTC plans are still to open the 2013 ferry season on May 3, as scheduled, as it looks at the various options to alleviate the concerns. “When everything was designed in the 1970s, it was not with the thought we would be facing the lowest water levels ever recorded in history.”

Tom Sasvari