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Placentia mayor calls for Argentia ferry to sail year-round

·3 min read
Marine Atlantic implemented offseason ferry service to Argentia last week while road repairs were underway on the southwest coast of Newfoundland after a heavy rainstorm. (Marine Atlantic/Twitter - image credit)
Marine Atlantic implemented offseason ferry service to Argentia last week while road repairs were underway on the southwest coast of Newfoundland after a heavy rainstorm. (Marine Atlantic/Twitter - image credit)
Marine Atlantic/Twitter
Marine Atlantic/Twitter

The mayor of Placentia says the disruptions to Newfoundland supply chains from road washouts on the island's west coast prove the need to maintain a separate year-round link to Nova Scotia.

When Port aux Basques, which has year-round ferry service, was cut off from the rest of the island by last week's washouts, Marine Atlantic diverted much of its traffic to Argentia, on the other side of Newfoundland.

The Argentia service generally runs for the summer season until mid-September, and caters more to tourism than commercial shipping.

But Keith Pearson, mayor of nearby Placentia says that doesn't have to be the case.

"The terminal itself highlights the importance of maintaining another link to Nova Scotia," Pearson told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show on Thursday.

"Delivering goods to Newfoundland is a vital part of everything that needs to happen, and Argentia remains a vital part to making that happen as we saw in the last week with the washouts on the west coast."

Pearson said the idea isn't to compete with Port aux Basques, but that he says the Argentia service can play a larger role in delivering goods to the island.

He said the plan would have to have Marine Atlantic — and the federal government — on board with dropping the cost of travel so it's feasible for commercial drivers to use the Argentia port, which is a longer trip from the ferry terminal in North Sydney, N.S. Pearson said the region's infrastructure would also need to be brought up to speed but in doing so the island's supply chain would be better off.

Garrett Barry/CBC
Garrett Barry/CBC

"It's certainly not where it needs to be. They need ramp upgrades, double-decker loading, they need to upgrade the terminal yard to handle commercial traffic," said Pearson.

"I've talked to some truckers on the ground the weekend. One of the options that was feasible was that they could enter one part of the island … do deliveries across the island and then exit through Argentia."

'It's primarily a tourism service'

Meanwhile, highways are open again on Newfoundland's southwest coast, allowing commercial drivers to once again access the ferry terminal in Port aux Basques.

Marine Atlantic communications officer Darrell Mercer told CBC Radio's Newfoundland Morning the ferry run on Thursday morning left Port aux Basques with a full load — about 65 commercial trucks — and the passage from Argentia on Wednesday night marked the end of the contingency plan.

"All three vessels will be back to the Port aux Basques-North Sydney service today," Mercer said.

Under the company's "triangle route, Mercer explained, a ferry would leave North Sydney for Port aux Basques, offload some supplies for that area, then continue on to Argentia with the remainder of the load before sailing back to Nova Scotia.

Erin Pottie/CBC
Erin Pottie/CBC

"That was the most effective way that we could see having the supplies get to the Port aux Basques area and then also move all those vital supplies to Argentia for the rest of the province," he said.

"That was a first for us, and it worked very, very well."

Mercer said the rerouting of ferries to Argentia cost about $90,000 extra for fuel alone in the last week, with the added cost of bringing the terminal back to service during its off-season.

Mercer said Marine Atlantic is not considering keeping Argentia open year-round right now.

"Argentia is not a constitutional service. It's a cost-recovery service. When you look at the traffic in the winter time, there's not that demand. It's primarily a tourism service," he said.

"From a commercial perspective, we don't have large volumes of commercial traffic that use that service during the summer season, and we certainly wouldn't expect that during the rest of the year."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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