Supporters of the ferry that travels between Digby, N.S., and Saint John, N.B., are gearing up for a fight in the coming year.

That’s because federal funding for the ferry service is guaranteed only until the end of 2010. At this point, the route's fate after that is unknown.

Ferry proponents are pushing hard to ensure the route remains in service.

Jim Thurber, who serves as the Digby Warden and heads a group trying to save the ferry, says the service is vital to his area, bringing tourists in and taking products to market.

The longer the uncertainty continues, the tougher it is for ferry operators to attract business, Thurber said.

"Tour buses are planning their 2011 season now. We don't know if we've got a ferry service here, so they're making alternate plans," he said. "This is why we say we need this settled and we need a long-term commitment to the service."

Study due in February

Thurber said a federal-provincial study on the route is expected in February. His group hopes the report will show the ferry service is indispensable to the region.

In the meantime, his group is lobbying federal and provincial politicians for funding.

"This is our highway, it's essential to the economy," he said. "The cost is important, but it's no different than the cost of replacing or repairing any other piece of highway."

The Saint John-Digby ferry, the Princess of Acadia, is operated by Bay Ferries Ltd.

Last year, the New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and federal governments all kicked in money to keep the ferry running. The two provincial governments contributed $2 million each for Bay Ferries' operating costs, while the federal government put in $11.1 million.

Government funding for the ferry route is nothing new.

The three governments stepped in with $8 million in 2006 after Bay Ferries threatened to stop its run because of rising costs and declining ferry traffic.