News: Nova Scotia Ponders Options for Aging Ferries

Chronicle Herald - November 15, 2014

Tancook Island, Englishtown vessels highlight problems with floundering fleet

As his government tries to find solutions for ailing ferries that service Englishtown and the Tancook Islands, Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Minister Geoff MacLellan says his department is examining its entire fleet.

That fleet, which services seven runs, includes nine vessels, two of which are “floating replacements in the 30-year range,” MacLellan said Friday.

“That’s the lifespan. We’re looking at a number of the options for all of our routes.”

Those options include outright replacement of some of the ferries, but MacLellan said that would be a costly prospect. The minister said the ferries cost “in the tens of millions, in most cases,” depending on their size and service requirements.

“We’re not getting any indication that we’re on a very short time frame for any of the nine that we have,” he said.

In most cases, the ferry services collect limited revenue when measured against the investment, said MacLellan. The conversation is slightly different when looking at the ferries serving Tancook and the Digby islands because they are essential transportation routes, he said.

“We have to get it right because people rely on them.”

A stakeholders meeting is happening soon to discuss the Tancook ferry and a feasibility study is underway for the Englishtown ferry. That study, which MacLellan said he hopes to have the results of in early 2015, is looking at traffic volumes, net operating costs of the ferry and comparing that with potential costs of a bridge.

Victoria County Warden Bruce Morrison said his municipality’s biggest concern is dependable transportation links; the area is open to alternatives to the ferry, he said.

“It’s a frustration level with the service; it’s either out of service for maintenance or because of weather. That’s the issue.”

Inconsistent service is an inconvenience because half the municipality’s population lives north of Cape Smokey, but it also has an impact on businesses that rely on tourists and travellers to go that route, said Morrison.

MacLellan said his department needs a more comprehensive plan for the future because what’s in place is “not sustainable as the fleet ages.”

“We’ve got to create a situation where we have these services viable and operating, so whatever that takes at this point we’re going to do.”

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