Government has 10 days to save ice-damaged ferry south of Sarnia, says MP

Bluewater Ferry, a fifth-generation family business, has been frozen for weeks after the causeway leading up to its dock was crushed by a massive sheet of ice.

Bluewater Ferry causeway was damaged by a sheet of ice manager says was pushed by an icebreaker

Bluewater Ferry owner Morgan Dalgety said a passing Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker pushed an ice shelf into his company's causeway, causing it to collapse. (Morgan Dalgety)

The federal government has just 10 days to pay up or the Bluewater Ferry in Sombra, Ont. could be permanently closed, according to Sarnia-Lambton Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu.

The fifth-generation family business has been frozen for weeks after the causeway leading up to its dock was crushed by a massive sheet of ice.

Morgan Delgaty, whose family has been working the stretch of water South of Sarnia for 55 years said the damage was caused by passing Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker, the Samuel Risley, which was escorting four freighters.

Icebreakers not near ferry: coast guard

The coast guard began reviewing information about the mangled causeway after calls from Delgaty, and issued a statement Friday explaining their ice breaker was working in the shipping lane on the American side.

The Canadian Coast Guard included this graphic in its statement to CBC News. The red portion shows the shipping lane on the St. Clair River near Sombra, Ont., which the coast guard were working in when the ferry was damaged. (Canadian Coast Guard)

"Icebreakers do not operate near the Sombra Ferry Dock," the statement read. "There were many vessels on the water at the time damage was reported to the coast guard, including both a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker, the CCGS Samuel Risley, and a United States Coast Guard ice cutter."

The government needs to come with $2.5 million or this border crossing will be closed permanently.- Marilyn Gladu, MP Sarnia-Lambton

The coast guard added its icebreaking service helps ships move safely through the ice along "one of the busiest trans-border shipping lanes in North America, the St. Clair River."

Fish spawning sets construction deadline

Gladu said construction must begin by the end of January, or it won't be completed before the fish spawning season begins in March and ends all work in St. Clair River.

The force of the ice twisted the steel and snapped wooden supports holding up the causeway. (Morgan Dalgety)

"If we miss the March 15 deadline for construction the next time you can start doing construction in the river is July so for sure if the government doesn't get on this in the next 10 days we're going to miss this opportunity," she said.

MP says litigation possible

The cost to replace the causeway was initially estimated at $4 million, an impossible sum for the ferry business which had not insured the roadway. But Gladu said she and other officials have worked out a more affordable option — all they need now is government support.

"The answer to that is to put in some pre-engineered culverts with a road on top that will allow the ice flow and the water flow to go under the road and if there's further ice coming it wouldn't damage the structure," she explained. "The government needs to come with $2.5 million or this border crossing will be closed permanently."

The Bluewater Ferry service crosses the St. Clair River, connecting Sombra, Ont. on the eastern bank with Marine City, Mich. in the U.S. on the western bank. (Google Maps)

In peak season during the spring or summer, the company's two, 12-car ferries cross the river about 40 times a day. In the winter months business is slower but "if the ice is moving we're running," said Dalgety.

"Local businesses on both sides are dependant on the traffic," said Gladu, describing the crossing as "critical" for thousands of people who rely on it to cross between the U.S. and Canada.

"If there is no federal funding coming I'm sure there's an opportunity for litigation because the coast guard is the one who should have shut the shipping channel," she said. "The damage is a direct result of the four tankers that came down."

About the Author

Dan Taekema

Dan Taekema is a Reporter/Editor with CBC Hamilton. Email: daniel.taekema@cbc.ca