The Belleisle Bay ferry is off for repairs until mid-December, with another boat taking its place in the meantime, according to the province.Government of New Brunswick/Facebook

The province will be providing a replacement for the Belleisle Bay Ferry this fall during repairs to the usual ship, the province confirmed.

As of Monday, the Belleisle Belle has been taken out of service until mid-December for necessary repairs, with another ship taking its place, according to Kelly Cormier, spokesperson for the provincial Department of Transportation and Infrastructure.

Kings Centre MLA Bill Oliver, who is the speaker of the legislature, said he and Valley Waters Mayor Randy McKnight were in contact with the ministry to stress the need for a replacement boat.

“We were able to impress upon the department that this was a necessity,” said Oliver, who served as minister of transportation from 2018 to 2020. He announced the replacement last week on Facebook, with a note thanking current minister Richard Ames and the department for recognizing “the needs of the community.”

The province’s ferry system includes seven crossings in the interior and nine boats, Oliver said. With Transportation Canada requiring retrofitting every five years, that leaves little margin for error when one of the boats goes out of service.

“They do break down for time to time and we have interruptions, people can understand that,” he said. “But to take a boat out of service for two or three months, then we’re looking at a different situation all together.”

The initial communication from the province “was not ideal,”  McKnight told Brunswick News.

“The initial plan was to pull it off and not replace it,” he said, with the village, which includes the communities of Norton, Springfield, Kars and Wickham, writing letters to Ames, Oliver and to Gagetown-Petitcodiac MLA Ross Wetmore.

“I’m happy with the outcome … it did take some effort from our local MLA and myself and council and the community on the whole,” he said. “It creates a lot of concern, because it is a vital link.”

Oliver said they were able to borrow a boat at the Westfield crossing that provides seasonal service to cover the Belleisle route, and negotiated with Coastal Transport, the company that operates the Fundy Isles ferries, to have one of their boats on standby at Westfield if needed.

According to Cormier, the replacement boat has the same vehicle capacity as the existing route, which carries 15 cars and turns a 25-minute drive through Springfield into a seven-minute ferry crossing between Earle Wharf and Long Point.

The Belleisle Bay route is used heavily by residents between Kars and Wickham, according to McKnight. Oliver said that emergency services from Kingston or Hampton use the ferry, using a recent fire in Kars as an example, and that it provides access to businesses such as Bates Landing. 

“Any extra fuel or travel time, it’s tough to swallow,” McKnight said, saying the community has felt the impact when the route has been down previously. “Living in a remote rural area, the cost of transportation is much higher.” 

The Belleisle Belle was purchased in 2018 and had a number of issues throughout 2019, including a weight restriction that limited commercial trucks.

Oliver says he is pushing for another boat to be added to the system, as well as to refit the vessels at a local facility in Evandale as opposed to transporting them out of province. The Belleisle Belle is going to Cape Breton for service, he said, with the help of a rubber tube sled.

“To tow that boat around, it’s an expensive proposition,” he said.

McKnight, who worked for a summer on the Belleisle Belle at one point in his life, said the Evandale facility needs some work to handle modern boats, but “that option exists there.”

“It was a great facility back in the day, it hired local people who took local pride in what they were doing,” he said. “The ferries were not out of service so long because it was something so close to where the ferries are actually used.”

Ferry service was disrupted on Monday while the Belleisle Belle was being taken out of service but was back to normal by the evening, Cormier said.

By Andrew Bates, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Sep 27, 2023 at 13:44

This item reprinted with permission from   Telegraph-Journal   Saint John, New Brunswick
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