Nova Scotia

Not everyone on board with plans for new Tancook ferry

There's mixed reaction to the Nova Scotia government's decision to buy a new ferry to service the Tancook Islands off the province's south coast and move its port to Blandford from Chester.

Province wants to buy new 18-vehicle ferry, move mainland port to Blandford

The wharf on Big Tancook Island. Most people who live on the island are fishermen. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

There's mixed reaction to the Nova Scotia government's decision to buy a new ferry to service the Tancook Islands off the province's south coast and move its port to Blandford from Chester.

David Baker, a lobster fisherman and lifelong resident of Big Tancook, is fully in favour of what the province is proposing.

"I think it would be very beneficial for the island here, especially for the 13 or 14 fishing boats that are here," Baker said Thursday, the day after the province announced it would spend almost $10 million on a new 18-vehicle ferry to replace the aging William G. Ernst passenger ferry.

Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Lloyd Hines said the province would need to spend about $20 million more on building ramps and docking facilities in Blandford, Big Tancook and Little Tancook.

Ferry will cut down on transport costs

Baker said having a car ferry would make life easier for him and the 100 or so other people who live on the island year-round, especially those who fish for a living.

David Baker, a lobster fisherman and Big Tancook resident, stands aboard his boat, the Megan and Dylan. (Dylan Baker )

"We could have an oil truck come here to the island instead of bringing fuel with 45-gallon drums back and forth," said Baker, who's also volunteer chair of the local Harbour Authority.

"We could have our bait brought here to the island if transport trucks could come with our bait."

It would also allow buyers to pick up lobsters directly from the Big Tancook wharf. 

Baker currently unloads his catch at Indian Harbour, not far from Peggys Cove, to get it to market. The trip takes an hour and a half, he said, and the weather doesn't often co-operate. 

A bigger ferry that can carry vehicles might also spur the province to fix the island's gravel roads at a cheaper cost, said Baker.

"If there's a car ferry, gravel trucks can come each day," said Baker. "Bring the equipment here instead of the high cost of hiring some kind of company to barge stuff here to the island."

When the island needed to bring in $600 worth of armour rock, he said the authority had to pay $4,000 just to get it to its destination.

A bad move, says Chester resident

Al Chaddock doesn't dispute the need for a new ferry, but the Chester resident isn't keen on the look of the proposed new ferry or its proposed new home in Blandford.

He said the current ferry dock in Chester is within walking distance of just about any service a visitor would need — a plus in summertime when ferry traffic is at its peak.

"There are no services in the Blandford area for banking, schools, medical, anything," he said. "It's just cottages and what's left of where they used to haul the whales out and cut them up at New Harbour." 

Chaddock said he's worried moving the ferry's mainland port will hurt Chester's economy.

As for the ferry itself, he's not convinced it will be able to make crossings in bad weather, which frequently happens during the winter.

The ferry is expected to be similar to the Margaret's Justice, the ferry servicing the Grand Passage on Digby Neck.

"This car ferry thing is designed for crossing rivers," said Chaddock. "It looks like a cable ferry idea like the one we have in LaHave, which is quite fine when there's no waves and no bad weather."

Missed tourism opportunity 

Chaddock said he believes the province missed an opportunity to provide side trips for visitors during peak tourist season with an excursion vessel. 

"Could we not have something that could be capable of also doing other things than simply ferrying automobiles to islands where they really don't want a lot of automobiles, [which is] one of the attractions of the Tancooks?" he said.

The province is expected to go to tender on the vessel and on the docking facilities this week.

Chaddock said the process is moving too quickly.

"I think there needs to be much more discussion," he said. "It shouldn't be presented to the people of this area and Tancook as a fait accompli."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.

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