The existing private Campobello ferry only runs from late June to mid-September. ((CBC))

The New Brunswick government will spend up to $20,000 to study the feasibility of year-round ferry service to Campobello Island instead of a private seasonal ferry.

Improved access to the island, located off the southeast end of New Brunswick and northeast tip of Maine, is important, said Premier Shawn Graham, who pledged the government study earlier this week at a Liberal nominating convention in St. Stephen.

'I have to say, people want to be engaged in the process, they want to provide valuable feedback, and we're committed to getting that input.' —Premier Shawn Graham

The existing private ferry service between Campobello Island and Deer Island operates for about three months from late June to mid-September.

Campobello motorists then have to drive across the island and take another free, year-round provincial ferry to get to the mainland in L'Etete, N.B.

The trip to the mainland takes a total of about one hour, including the two estimated 20-minute ferry rides and about 15 minutes to cross Deer Island.

During the off-season, if islanders want to get to mainland New Brunswick to go to the hospital, visit a dentist, or do some banking, they have to take the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial Bridge at Lubec, Maine, and drive about 150 kilometres round trip to get to St. Stephen.

The travelling alone takes about two hours, but they also have to cross the Canada-U.S. border four times — at both Lubec and St. Stephen each way — where they can face long waits.

If they drive to the U.S., they also have to carry a passport, pay duty on any purchases if they're away for less than 24 hours, and face restrictions on what they can take across the border, such as meat.

"It was an issue that was brought to my attention from residents of the island, that we need to move in a timely fashion on this study," said Graham.

"We can't wait for the government of Canada to come to the table and that's why we're taking the first step today as a province and I have to say, people want to be engaged in the process, they want to provide valuable feedback, and we're committed to getting that input."

Residents lobbying for years

The study will examine demand, traffic volumes and potential schedules, he said. It will also look at the costs of starting up and maintaining a year-round service.

Graham said he hopes Ottawa can offset some costs of the study at a later date.

Island residents have been lobbying the provincial government for a year-round ferry service for years.

Some have proposed a direct ferry to the mainland in St. Andrews, instead of having to take a second ferry from Deer Island.  

In a letter to Transportation Minister Denis Landry in February 2009, Gerry Hicks wrote: "I am writing to you as chairman of the Campobello Island health and wellness advisory committee to let you know in no uncertain terms that when it comes to mobility and access to services, good enough is no longer good enough for the residents of Campobello Island.

"Restricted mobility of people, goods and services has had a pervasive negative impact on the economy, education, employment, mental and physical well being of our residents resulting in an unnecessary threat to the viability of our community," Hicks said.

Some argue the island's future could be in jeopardy without a year-round service because businesses won't locate there and people will move away.

In 2006, the island, which is about 40 square kilometres, had a permanent population of about 1,000.