Nfld. & Labrador

'We will stay here': Protesters vow to block Legionnaire from leaving Bell Island

Protesters were still at the ferry dock on Bell Island Monday morning, continuing to block their new ferry from leaving.

Transportation minister says 'fiscal reality' behind decision to send ferry to Fogo

Bell Island resident Valerie Ryan says she and the protesters are "passionate, proud and pissed-off.” (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Protesters were still at the ferry dock on Bell Island Monday morning, blocking the departure of the MV Legionnaire to work on the Fogo Island and Change Islands service.

The MV Flanders is operating on a "load and go" basis while the protest continues.

"We are accepting no concessions of any kind. We want the Flanders to go to Fogo, who are quite willing to take it. We want the Legionnaire to be here with the Beaumont Hamel, and we are accepting nothing less," Valerie Ryan, resident and protest organizer, said.

"We will stay here. We will bar the ramp until we are physically removed."

​On Friday, the Department of Transportation and Works announced the new $50-million vessel will be reassigned from Bell Island for several months while the Fogo Island ferry, the MV Veteran, is out for repairs.

Bell Island residents say ​the change leaves them with two ferries that have much less capacity than the Legionnaire, which MHA David Brazil, who represents the protesters, said could have been avoided if all parties had been properly consulted.

Close to 60 people continue to protest Monday morning, inlcuding one man wearing a jacket with the message 'No go Fogo.' (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

"This is not to pit one community against another. There should have been an easy fix to this. There should have been a dialogue, a meeting called between the two ferry users committees," he told the St. John's Morning Show on Monday.

"What happened was the officials from the department made a call to a couple of people on the ferry users committee and the mayor and said 'not only are we taking this [ferry], but here's the schedule we're giving you to replace it with'."

Government response

Transportation and Works Minister Steve Crocker said "a fiscal reality" is one of the reasons for sending the Legionnaire to the Fogo Island-Change Islands route.

"The reality is we're offering 18 runs starting at 5 a.m. and that would cost the province — throughout the duration if this lasted until early in the new year — approximately $54,000," he told reporters on Monday. 

Doing what Bell Island protesters want would cost $200,000, he said.

Transportation and Works Minister Steve Crocker says the current plan is the cheapest alternative. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Crocker said the Bell Island route needs two vessels. 

"The reality is Fogo doesn't have the same commuter issues that you'd find on Bell Island," he said.

Crocker said one person who needed dialysis was airlifted to the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's when protests preventing the vessel from sailing. 

He said the elevator onboard the Flanders is expected to be repaired by Tuesday at noon. 

A meeting between Crocker, the mayor of Bell Island and residents had been expected to take place at 3:30 p.m. Monday.

A previous statement from the Department of Transportation and Works said it discussed alternative arrangements with the ferry user committees, and that all parties came to an agreement.

People continue to rally against government's plan to move the new MV Legionnaire to the Fogo Island-Change Islands run. (CBC)

Brazil said an RCMP negotiator was set to go to Bell Island on Monday, to try to see if there's some way to end the protest.

The MHA said his constituents understand that people on Fogo Island need a ferry service too, but the government is not listening to him or people in the area when it comes to their concerns about scheduling.

Unacceptable commute times

With the current swap, capacity would be downgraded by about 40 per cent, according to Brazil. He says that's especially troubling during the morning hours when people have to commute to the St. John's area for work and medical appointments.

MHA David Brazil is representing the protesters at the ferry dock in Bell Island, and says the entire situation could have been sorted out before now if the province had properly consulted all parties. (Paula Gale/CBC)

In many cases, he said Bell Islanders are now forced to go down to the ferry terminal more than two hours in advance to get in line, and even then there's no guarantee they will get on the ferry on time.

Brazil met with officials from the transportation department to see if the Flanders, which can accommodate double the walk-on passengers and 30 per cent more cars than the Beaumont Hamel, could service those morning hours.

After the meeting, he said department officials said they would try to work things out but ultimately did little to address his suggestion.

"They wouldn't even entertain it," he said. "The most frustrating part is I spent all of yesterday back and forth with officials, being led on."

Protesters set up on the ramp at the Bell Island ferry terminal all weekend, blocking the MV Legionnaire from leaving. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

Unrealistic arrangement

"There's a number of alternatives that we presented to government that were never presented to the people of Fogo and never any dialogue between the two groups. There was an imposed schedule here that realistically couldn't work. It obviously says the officials are not cognizant of what's going on."

Another issue that's aggravating the situation is the fact that the elevator is currently broken on the Flanders, which could create an emegency situation if someone with a medical emergency can't make the ferry crossing.

With files from St. John's Morning Show