Nfld. & Labrador

New ferry needed for Strait of Belle Isle before decision on fixed link made: Labrador council

The president of the Combined Council of Labrador supports the idea of a fixed link but says before a ferry decision should come first.

Trent O'Brien supportive of link, but says new ferry more pressing

Trent O'Brien says that before any decision is made on a fixed link, the Strait of Belle Isle ferry route needs a new vessel. (Submitted)

The president of the Combined Council of Labrador supports the idea of a fixed link between Labrador and Newfoundland, but says before any decision is made, a new ferry for the Straight of Belle Isle must be secured.

"Marine transportation definitely has its setbacks, and if you had a fixed link that's not altered by storm conditions, that is 100 per cent the best way to move this province forward," said Trent O'Brien, whose organization speaks on behalf of all communities in Labrador.

"[But] no matter what the government decides to do, there has to be an immediate short-term, say 15 to 20 years, marine transportation plan that would involve a new vessel for this run."

On Wednesday, Premier Dwight Ball held a news conference sharing the results of a new government study, which recommended an undersea rail tunnel be built between the two land masses at a cost of $1.65 billion.

"Making a fixed link could truly change the landscape and unify our country," Ball said

No surprises in new study

O'Brien agrees on that point, but said Thursday the new study commissioned by Ball's Liberals doesn't really come to any findings that differ from a similar study conducted in 2004.

The 2004 study estimated a cost for a fixed link at $1.44 billion, with a completion time of 12 years, while the study conducted this year estimates a 15-year completion time. 

"The whole thing to me seems to me to be an act of political theatre, just as a PR stunt, because there's very little new here," said O'Brien

"I don't see where there's been any added value to wait for this study. It's been used as a way to block further discussions on marine transportation."

With a timeframe of at least 15 years for a fixed link to be completed, O'Brien said it's paramount that a new agreement for the ferry between Newfoundland and Labrador be signed that covers that time period.

The MV Apollo, an aging vessel built in 1970, is currently servicing the Strait of Belle Isle route. 

"If the fixed link goes ahead, well then it should be completed by the time the contract is, and if it doesn't we've still secured a new vessel for the run to provide serviced more reliably," he said. 

With files from Labrador Morning