Kingston boat lines eyeing legal action over extended LaSalle Causeway closure

Crews work on the damaged LaSalle Causeway on Sunday, Apr. 7, 2024. Photo by Aerosnapper Kingston.

As those who spend time in downtown Kingston are painfully aware, the LaSalle Causeway is under a full emergency closure, with no reopening date in sight, which has trapped a number of commercial vessels in the inner harbour, causing a significant delay to the reopening of St. Lawrence Cruise Lines for the season.

According to a release from St. Lawrence Cruise Lines (SLCL), several business owners are poised to take the federal government to court over the “bungled bridge overhaul” that has bottled up vessels in the city’s inner harbour and put dozens of jobs at risk.

Construction delays on the LaSalle Causeway have trapped a number of commercial vessels in the inner harbour as well as effectively shutting down the only drydock in eastern Ontario because it can’t be accessed from Lake Ontario, SLCL stated. Kingston 1000 Islands Cruises is also impacted by this situation, as is Metalcraft Marine.

The federally run causeway was due to open on Wednesday, May 1, 2024, for the regular boating season, but, according to the release, the government has indicated, due to “negligence during construction,” that deadline will not be met, which Jason Clark, the President of St. Lawrence Cruise Lines, calls unacceptable.

“My ship has run aground in government incompetence and red tape,” said Clark. “Other commercial owners are in the same boat.”

SLCL said that Clark has met with government officials and provided a solution to get the trapped vessels out, but federal bureaucrats are proceeding at a “ponderous pace.” He said the fate of several businesses is at stake, noting the marine industry in Kingston pumps millions of dollars every year into the economy.

St. Lawrence Cruise Lines operates the Canadian Empress, which has been a fixture on the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers for over 40 years. The Kingston-owned business creates millions of dollars of economic activity every year from Kingston to Quebec City, and has operated since 1981, according to the release.

The Empress was due to make its first voyage of the season on Friday, May 10, but the company has now been forced to cancel its first cruise of the season due to the inability of the government to commit to a firm date to reopen navigation, SLCL stated. Unfortunately, the cancellation of more cruises may follow, said Clark.

Since the only drydock in eastern Ontario is cut off, all vessels in the area, including local ferries and vessels in New York State, have no repair facility available, Clark added.

According to the release, the federal transport minister has a legal obligation to order the botched repairs stopped and open part of the causeway to free the trapped vessels and allow access to the drydock effective May 1, which is the traditional start of the navigation season. Clark said there is a way to open part of the channel that will help ease the situation.

However, Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez and local Liberal MP Mark Gerretsen have “failed to take any action,” Clark noted.

“It’s scandalous that the federal government and the local MP who are supposed to protect Kingston jobs are twiddling their thumbs while several businesses face bankruptcy,” said Clark. “We have no alternative but to take the federal government to court if they fail to act now.”

According to the release, if the federal government fails to immediately reopen the waterway, St. Lawrence Cruise Lines has instructed its lawyers to take the case to the Federal Court of Canada.

“There is a workable and easy solution and it’s unbelievable that we must go to court to get the minister to do his job,” said Clark.

“He is badly letting down this community.”

Kingstonist has had ongoing communications with Kingston 1000 Islands Cruises (KTIC) about the closure of the causeway and its impact on their operations. Eric Ferguson, General Manager of KTIC, relayed that on Wednesday, Apr. 17, 2024, he and other stakeholders met with representatives from Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) to present the plan to allow vessels out of the Inner Harbour that Clark referred to (PSPC is the federal agency that oversees maintenance and operations of the LaSalle Causeway). Ferguson provided the “whitepaper” presented to PSPC, with background information and a proposed solution.

Ferguson said that he was provided no updates on a timeline for the repair work at that meeting.

“We have to assume that PSPC excepts a bridge lift will be delayed weeks or months beyond May 1; therefore, they need to open up another part of the causeway to allow a free flow of marine traffic through this navigable waterway. It’s not an option to leave these vessels stranded in the inner harbour in May,” Ferguson said.

Asked about this very issue by Kingstonist on Monday, Apr. 22, 2024, Jeremy Link, a Media Relations representative for PSPC, responded on the morning of Wednesday, Apr. 24, 2024.

“Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) is aware that the closure of the LaSalle Causeway has impacts on marine-based businesses, and although the timeline to reopen to marine operations remains unknown, PSPC is working with a diverse team of specialized engineers and contractors to develop a solution to fix and reopen the bridge as soon as possible,” a statement provided by Link reads.

“At this time, a one-time opening of the causeway to allow cruise ships through is not feasible, given that the damage to the compromised diagonal element directly impedes the bridge’s ability to resume lift operations. PSPC is committed to providing regular updates as more information becomes available.”

Kingstonist plans to speak further with Ferguson and follow up with Metalcraft Marine to find out more about how their respective operations are impacted and if they, too, are looking towards legal action over the prolonged bridge closure. Updated coverage will be provided as more information becomes available.

With files from Tori Stafford.

One thought on “Kingston boat lines eyeing legal action over extended LaSalle Causeway closure

  • Mark Gerretsen has been conspicuously invisible. Bureaucrats are quaking in Ottawa cubicles.

Leave a Reply

You cannot copy content from this page, please share the link instead!