MARINE ATLANTIC MODERNIZES

Marine Atlantic main topic as transport minister holds roundtable session

(Julie Collins – Cape Breton Post)

From left ,Cape Breton North MLA Cecil Clarke and Rob Merrifield, federal minister of state for transport, wrap up a pre-budget session held in North Sydney Wednesday

NORTH SYDNEY — Rob Merrifield, federal minister of state for transport, was in North Sydney Wednesday to meet with business and community as part of pre-budget discussions.

Topics :

Marine Atlantic , Argentia , Stena Group of Companies , North Sydney , Port aux Basques , Ottawa

An area of concern for businesses and commercial operators over the past few years has been ferry service to Newfoundland.

“When the prime minister first asked me to come into cabinet, what he asked me to do was to come to Marine Atlantic to see what could be done. I was absolutely appalled when I saw the state of Marine Atlantic — it was on life support. Previous governments had just let it deteriorate to an unbelievable state.”

He added that the federal government has since put almost $1 billion into Marine Atlantic in onshore improvements and fleet renewal.

Ottawa has earmarked $30 million for a new terminal in North Sydney. The terminals in both Port aux Basques and Argentia are presently being refurbished.

“One of the concerns is the accessibility to the main street and we are working on trying to address the layout of the terminal.”

Referring to the two new vessels, Merrifield said they will add about 50-plus per cent in the belly capacity to Marine Atlantic.

“The problem was that fundamentals, such as lack of capacity, were not addressed and no one last summer thought they were going to be,” he said. “This summer is going to be a little different with the two new vessels.”

 In May the federal government and Marine Atlantic announced that the corporation had entered into an agreement with Stena Group of Companies to charter two vessels to replace the aging MV Caribou and MV Joseph and Clara Smallwood.

This was made possible through Ottawa’s investment of $521 million over the next five years to revitalize MAI, and renew its fleet and shore facilities at North Sydney and Port aux Basques and Argentia.

In consultation with the Atlantic Truckers Association earlier this week, Merrifield indicated the truckers would like to see the reservation system come back into play.

“That is something that I think will be assessed as we move into the next few months.”

Local businessman Emerson Allen said with the minister behind Marine Atlantic, it should bode well for the community.

“With the new vessels and the infrastructure, in all honesty everything looks good,” Allen said. “This is only a small part of his portfolio, but he (Merrifield) seems to be really well up on the problems and the opportunities for Marine Atlantic. It is the opportunities we are looking forward to, because they benefit everybody.”

 Peter Gillis, president of the International Longshoreman’s Association Local 1259, said unions representing Marine Atlantic workers definitely had major concerns.

 “The last year has been incredible, to see the changes that have come to Marine Atlantic through the federal money that has been allocated,” Gillis said. “We can see significant differences already. We are excited about getting these new vessels to the dock.”

Gillis said the new ramps in both North Sydney and Port aux Basques will allow two boats to load at the same time.

“It is staggering to see the difference in capacity; I really think it is going to make a significant difference.”

Baddeck lawyer and entrepreneur Dan Chaisson said Wednesday’s session was incredibly instructive.

“I felt a lot better about Cape Breton today than I felt for a while; there was a very good mix of people at the table.”

(jcollins@cbpost.com)

(Despite the naysayers, the Federal Tories have done more for the North Sydney – Newfoundland Ferry Service then any other Government to-date – CAPER)

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