South Baymouth harbour depths will satisfy needs of Chi-Cheemaun

OWEN SOUND—Water levels in Lake Huron and Michigan remain far below the recorded monthly mean for this time of the year and the Canadian government’s best case projected rise in water levels for May 2013 lies some 25 centimetres below what was found at the dock in 2012, but the Owen Sound Transportation Company is maintaining its position that the MS Chi-Cheemaun ferry’s schedule will go forward as planned. An important consideration for the Manitoulin economy as the ferry accounts for as much as $30 million of the local economy.

Water levels in Lake Huron last March were sitting dead centre on the 176 metre mark, but after dropping precipitously below the bottom of the chart on recorded levels this past December and January, the rebound has been modest at best. Although the rise in levels has been roughly in line with last spring, the levels are starting from a much lower level. The best case scenario presented on the government charts for this spring and summer would see water levels return to last March’s level sometime in mid-June while the worst case rise would lie anemically below the minimum historical average for the lake.

Latest measurement figures at the Port of Little Current seem to indicate the more pessimistic view is ascendant. The water isn’t coming back very fast, at least to this point. But the best case forecast range does show the rise in water levels coming on very strong through the latter part of April, so optimism may not be misplaced. Water level measurements at Thessalon do show a significant rise in water levels over the course of April, having gained some 10 centimetres on those levels reported at the beginning of April.

Owen Sound Transportation Company CEO Susan Schrempf confirmed that the OSTC plans are to still open the 2013 ferry season on schedule with a May 3 sailing.

The company’s main concern for the 2013 season centres on the bumpers which fender the ferry from the dock and the OSTC is currently discussing solutions to the issue with the owners of the facility (the Ontario Ministry of Transportation). “This all has to do with the rub rails on the ship which protects it from structural damage,” she said. “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 they could go below the fenders, there would be a problem.” Such an eventuality could result in serious structural damage to the vessel, she notes.

The lowest Lake Huron water levels in history have come at a bad time for the Island’s link to the Bruce Penisula as ridership on the ferry has plummeted in tandem with the water gauge. The OSTC has embarked on a marketing strategy to turn those numbers around, including a recently released market feasibility study and a yet-to-be-released economic impact assessment.

The market feasibility study suggests the ferry’s salvation lies in tourism, local stakeholder partnerships and targeting the burgeoning, and largely untapped, Toronto market.

Callers to the Chi-Cheemaun booking office are firmly assured that everything is proceeding as normal—it is business usual for the MS Chi-Cheemaun. To make a reservation contact: 1-800-265-3163.

Michael Erskine