The Council of the County of Frontenac is supporting a request by the Township of Frontenac Islands that the provincial government reconsider its decision not to run two ferries to and from Wolfe Island once the new Wolfe Islander IV ferry enters into service later this year. Back in 2016, when the province announced a new ferry for Wolfe Island, the plan was for the existing Wolfe Islander III to remain in service, with both vessels serving the island in tandem.
However, plans to run both ferries have apparently been shelved, according to information received by members of the Frontenac Islands Council. At a meeting on March 15, 2023, the Council of the County of Frontenac approved a motion to support the Township of Frontenac Islands in its request that the Ministry of Transportation for Ontario (MTO) reconsider a two-ferry system for the island.
“The Council of the County of Frontenac hereby supports the request by the Township of Frontenac Islands that the Honourable Caroline Mulroney immediately reconsider and clarify the decision to reduce the original plans for a two-ferry service and reinstate the two-ferry plan as contemplated by the Ministry,” read the motion.
The request also included an appeal to the Ministry to conduct “board consultation” with members of the public regarding the “impacts and mitigation strategies for their decision, in particular parking, emergency response, and quality of life.”
According to Frontenac Islands Mayor Judy Greenwood Speers, she and another councillor were recently informed that the MTO would no longer be implementing a two-ferry system once the Wolfe Islander IV goes into service this spring. “At first, it was a denial that there [were] ever two ferries agreed to, and then they paraphrased it [to] ‘for the foreseeable future,’ due to staffing,” she said.
Not all County councillors were in favour of the motion, including North Frontenac Mayor Gerry Lichty, who questioned the reliability of the current Wolfe Islander III. “Quite frankly… I have some issues with this particular motion… Why would you want a 45- or 50-year-old ferry that, when you read the internet, it’s full of complaints?”
While the Wolfe Islander III has been subject to numerous delays in recent months, including earlier this March when an engine change forced the boat to be docked for nearly 24 hours, it should be noted that many of the recent service disruptions were caused by labour shortages, not mechanical failures.
Lichty went on to note the new ferry adds additional capacities, as he questioned the need to keep the existing boat in service. “In 2018, the province of Ontario bought two ferries, [Wolfe Island’s] is in excess of $50 million. You got… 55 per cent more carrying capacity, you got 33 per cent more people carrying capacity, and you want to twin it with a 50 year-old vessel?”
According to Greenwood Spears, the Township of Frontenac Islands has been planning for the two ferries to run in tandem since the initial announcement was made back in 2016.
“A lot of plans were made, including potential development of homes in Marysville… They eliminated our free parking that [Wolfe Islanders] used to keep a spare car in Kingston, in order to minimize having to line up for the boat. So, the dock was shortened,” she said of provincial decisions which Wolfe Island residents have had no say in — noting that not all such decisions impacting islanders have been made by the province. “There’s a whole host of decisions that were made at the County level, including… even [to] paramedic and ambulance service.”
Despite the fact that plans for tandem service were made when a different party was in power provinicially, the mayor urged the current government to live up to the commitment.
“The province needs to stick with what they agreed to and what plans were made around, even if it was a Liberal government at the time… They have not issued any formal notice. Their communication has been limited at best, and vague in many respects,” she said.
“If this is what came out of the broad public consultation back in 2015-2016, you need to hold to it or else you need to come back and do another board public consultation, because, quite frankly, I don’t need a lot more homes built in Marysville if I can’t get the people off the island now.”
The County Council ultimately voted in favour of supporting the Township’s request, as it asks the MTO to reconsider the decision to scrap plans for a two-ferry system. A copy of the motion will also be forwarded to the City of Kingston as well as Kingston and the Islands MPP Ted Hsu.
A representative from the MTO did not immediately respond to a request for comment.