Chi-Cheemaun’s dock renovations start immediately

This docking pier at South Baymouth awaits Transport Canada improvements to mitigate low water so the Chi-Cheemaun can dock.

Tender let at $338,802

OWEN SOUND—The $338,802 (exclusive of engineering fees) contract to provide modifications to the fenders at the MS Chi-Cheemaun ferry’s Tobermory and South Baymouth berths has been awarded to Dean Construction Ltd of Lasalle, Ontario. Although final details of the contract and the work schedule were still to be worked out, work on the modifications to the fenders is expected to be completed during an eight-week window.

“We are all very pleased to see this moving forward,” said Susan Schrempf, CEO of the Owen Sound Transportation Company, the ferry operators and an agency of the provincial government. “We appreciate the support we have received from the Island community through a time that has been tremendously difficult for all of us.”

The cost of the modifications came in significantly higher than the $292,000 originally estimated by an engineering company hired to assess the modifications needed to accommodate the ferry during the ongoing period of low water, but the planned modifications will still be far below the cost of completely replacing the current fender system.

Riggs Engineering assessed four competing bids for the contract, selecting Dean Construction Ltd. as the best fit to complete the work.

The work will begin at the Chi-Cheemaun’s Tobermory terminus as that is where the fenders that have been most impacted lie and those fenders are most critical to maintaining an uninterrupted ferry schedule. The ferry was unable to begin its annual schedule on May 3 due to historically low water levels that remain well below chart datum. Although the water had risen to the point where a load-restricted run was possible and was actually higher than it was last fall when the ferry’s scheduled runs had ended, an engineering report completed in December indicated that those water levels were too low to operate the ferry safely.

The key concern is centred on the fenders that keep the ferry from colliding with the sides of the wharves where the ferry lands. Those fenders were particularly high in Tobermory and the ferry’s hull would have run under the fenders there even after the water was high enough to safely dock in South Baymouth.

The work is expected to begin this week and will consist of the removal of six of the wooden timbers in the offending fenders, three forward and three aft, and replacing them with longer steel box fenders which will extend lower than is possible with wooden structures. The steel boxes will be coated in a special plastic that will help protect the vessel’s hull when it rubs up against the fenders. Being made of steel, the newly added fenders will be able to extend lower than was possible with the wooden versions.

Load restrictions on the ferry will continue until further notice. Those load restrictions limit the number of heavy trucks up to 22,000 kilograms to one per crossing, at the master’s discretion, and disallow any trucks over that weight limit. Those hoping to take a heavy truck across on the ferry are advised to contact the reservations office at 1-800-265-3163.

Ms. Schempf noted that the interest in the Chi-Cheemaun’s fate on the Island was clearly based on more information than the reaction along the southern shore. “There wasn’t the level of inquiry from the southern side,” said Ms. Schrempf. “Nobody really called us from that side.”

Statements from the Tobermory Chamber of Commerce published in the Bruce Peninsula Press cite the release of funds by the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (MNDM) as an admission that the modifications are the province’s responsibility, but a ministry statement announcing the funds clearly indicated that the province was releasing those funds due to a recognition of the importance of the ferry to the local economy as a significant amount of businesses and employment depend on the ferry for their livelihoods and the abrogation of the ferry dock’s owners, Transport Canada (a federal agency), to fulfill what MNDM said was clearly a contractual obligation on the part of the dock owners. The contract, insists the province, contains no “escape clause” exempting them from responsibility to properly maintain the docks due to low water levels.

Although the MNDM and the federal government will continue to wrangle over who is ultimately responsible for the modifications, work will proceed to ensure the Chi-Cheemaun can continue to provide a vital link between Manitoulin Island and the southern Ontario mainland at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula.

Michael Erskine