Province commits funds for South Baymouth dock

SOUTH BAYMOUTH—While the province of Ontario will be providing the funds toward necessary repairs of the fenders at South Baymouth and Tobermory, the province is still waiting for the federal government to give its authority for the repairs to be carried out.

Meanwhile, the Owen Sound Transportation Company (OSTC) announced on Monday, “Lake Huron/Georgian Bay water levels remain below the minimum level required for the ferry to dock safely against the dock fenders at the Tobermory and South Baymouth ferry docks. OSTC will put the ferry into service once the fenders have been modified, or when water levels reach a point where use of the existing fenders is safe for the ferry, our passengers and crew.” The ferry docks and fenders are owned and maintained by Transport Canada.

The announcement means the ferry schedule will be delayed until at least May 13, and the decision on when and if the season will be made will also be assessed on that date.

“The province has generously offered to pay for the work to be done on the docks and fenders,” said Susan Schrempf, OSTC president. She pointed out it is now up to the federal minister of transport, Denis Lebel, to provide the authority to Michael Gravelle and the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (MNDM) for the work that needs to be carried out.

It was at a public rally held at the South Baymouth ferry docks last Friday morning that Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha told the group that Minister Gravelle had announced the province would come up with the costs of the work, $292,000, for the work to be done.

“I left the office in the morning and drove from Toronto to South Baymouth, extremely frustrated by the lack of action on behalf of both governments,” said Mr. Mantha, “and how much it is going to affect businesses, agriculture, gift shops, basically everyone on the Island. So I was really pleased to get the message from Mr. Gravelle. He certainly came through on this issue, they are going to release $292,000 to repair the fenders and we in turn will continue to discuss whose jurisdiction it is. It is a federal responsibility and they should be paying for the necessary repairs.”

“We absolutely need the Chi-Cheemaun to run, businesses are losing valuable dollars every day the ferry does not run,” said Mr. Mantha, who said, “we need authority from the federal government to do the work. Yes, there is someone locally who can start work tomorrow if it was possible.”

“I know Carol (Hughes) is working very hard along with Olivia Chow to pressure the government to get the necessary work done as soon as possible,” said Mr. Mantha. He said it is this type of lobbying, especially the voices of local residents and businesses who have been rallying and putting the pressure on the government, that the announcement from Mr. Gravelle came last week. “It just shows when you get the backing of the people in the community and they bring their voices forward, things get done. As I told everyone at Friday’s rally, it is you who did this, your voices have been heard, and it is because of what you did. Their voices have been heard.”

Mr. Gravelle said, “Current low water levels in Lake Huron are preventing the MS Chi-Cheemaun from safely docking at the wharves in Tobermory and South Baymouth. The operational challenge is caused by water levels that are lower than the fender units on the existing wharf structure. The wharves, owned and operated by Transport Canada, require immediate maintenance.”

“Dialogue between the OSTC and Transport Canada has been ongoing for two years without a resolution,” said Mr. Gravelle. “It is unfortunate that the federal government has yet to accept its responsibility for the work on the wharves as required under its agreements with the province and the OSTC. With the ferry originally scheduled to begin sailing today (May 3), I cannot sit back and allow the current situation to continue. Following a number of urgent requests made directly to Minister Lebel over the past few weeks, today we are offering to make the necessary funds available to resolve the problems with the wharf. While we continue to make it clear that this is certainly a federal responsibility, our immediate goal is that the ferry be able to operate safely as soon as possible to avoid serious harm to the local economies and the interests of the people who rely on this service. We have approached them formally to have this work completed. I look forward to hearing back on the matter immediately so that we can determine the most expeditious path forward.”

“In order to minimize the disruptions to this vital public service, the MNDM is prepared to commit funds up to $292,000 to undertake these repairs. This commitment is made without prejudice to the rights of Ontario and/or the OSTC to subsequently seek recovery from Transport Canada of all costs incurred in connection with the completion of the necessary remedial work in accordance with Transport Canada’s obligations under the 1972 and 2007 agreements,” said Mr. Gravelle.

Mr. Gravelle told the Recorder, “It was the right thing to do. Everyone is conscious of the fact the facilities are owned by Transport Canada. Ultimately it is crucial to get the Chi-Cheemaun sailing as soon as possible. We would all like to see the waters levels up by tomorrow morning, but the lower levels means it is even more important this work on the fenders is done.”

“The feds have asked us to enter into an agreement to allow access to their property, so the repairs can be done,” said Mr. Gravelle. “We hope this is resolved very quickly. And the other discussions we have related to the work to be done is the time frame involved. We are all working towards getting this work done as soon as possible, every day lost has a negative economic impact on everyone who relies on the Chi-Cheemaun operating.”

“It’s good someone took ownership of this whole issue and we owe a great deal of debt to Mr. Gravelle,” said Gary Brown, reeve of Tehkummah Township. “How many other places in Canada are in the same position we are right now with our ferry service not running. This should never have happened and the federal government is not serving us the way they should, instead they are playing politics.”

Tom Sasvari