Nfld. & Labrador

Could cars finally travel to St-Pierre-Miquelon this summer?

Renovations to the wharf in Fortune — a long-awaited expansion project needed to allow cars to travel on St-Pierre-Miquelon’s new ferries — could finally be finished this summer, according to the president of the town’s port authority.

After years of waiting, wharf upgrades in Fortune could be completed this summer, says port authority

St-Pierre-Miquelon purchased two brand new ferries, including the Nordet, seen here, for $50 million. The boats have been in service since 2018, but because the wharf in Fortune still hasn't been upgraded, no vehicles have yet travelled between the French islands and Newfoundland. (Radio-Canada)

Renovations to the wharf in Fortune, N.L. — a long-awaited expansion project needed to allow cars to travel on St-Pierre-Miquelon's new ferries — could finally be finished this summer, according to the president of the town's port authority.

Earl Rose, president of the Fortune Port Authority, said Tuesday that a new ramp still has to be installed. Construction of a new customs booth has only just begun, he said, adding that some of the expanded wharf also needs to be paved.

"We're looking at June [to complete the project], but I don't think we're going to be able to do it in June. It could be a month, maybe longer than that," Rose said. "A lot of it depends on COVID-19; we're having trouble getting material to Nova Scotia, and then we can't get it out of Nova Scotia. It's a long haul."

Since entering into service in 2018, the archipelago's two new ferries — purchased for $50 million by the French government — have so far been able to transport only passengers to and from Newfoundland. Both ferries can transport up to 15 cars or three transport trucks.

French spend millions on Fortune upgrades

The Fortune wharf expansion project has already seen its share of delays. Despite support from the federal and provincial governments, the port authority struggled to launch construction until July 2019, when St-Pierre=Miquelon stepped in, pledging $5.25 million over 10 years.

The federal government and the port authority have each chipped in $1 million, while the province will pay $500,000.

Rose said the French government has since decided to install a temporary ramp this summer, to allow vehicle traffic to begin before a permanent ramp arrives later in the fall. He said French authorities have assumed the added cost of the second ramp.

Radio-Canada requested interviews with St-Pierre-Miquelon's chief public servant, as well as the archipelago's president, Bernard Briand. Neither were made available for an interview.

Ready for tourist season?

Like commercial flights, ferry services between St-Pierre-Miquelon and Newfoundland have been suspended since the beginning of the pandemic last March. But Fortune Mayor Charles Penwell said he hopes the wharf expansion project's completion coincides with mass public vaccinations and the reopening of the Canadian border.

"There's a major difference without that St-Pierre connection," Penwell said. "It would certainly be a big tourism boost for our community. Our connection with St-Pierre goes back a long way."

Penwell said many residents of St-Pierre have cabins on the Burin Peninsula and leave vehicles in Fortune for when they want to drive to St. John's. But he said the possibility of vehicle traffic could also lead to more freight going back and forth between Newfoundland and the French islands.

"We're anticipating that there will be a lot more freight going back between Fortune and St-Pierre. Now a lot of their freight comes by boat from Halifax. We could expect to see that most of that would go through here from now on."

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