Loyalist Township Deputy Mayor issues statement on Amherst Island ferry service

The Amherst Islander II. Photo by Aerosnapper Kingston.

On Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024, Loyalist Township Deputy Mayor Nathan Townend issued a series of statements regarding different aspects of the Amherst Islander II, the now long overdue electric ferry meant to serve Amherst Island.

This is the most recent update on the ferry matter since the Township was granted a meeting with the province for an update on the long-delayed ferry in August 2023. Distilled into three sections, Townsend first addressed the situation with the ramp for the Amherst Islander II with information from the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO).

“In fall 2023, MTO advised Loyalist Township that a local contractor had been authorized to complete repair work on the Wolfe Islander IV ramp which was damaged earlier in the fall,” the statement began.

“Repair work is expected to be completed by early 2024, after which the original ramp from the Amherst Islander II will be returned and reinstalled.”

What Townend didn’t say was why the ramp from the Amherst Islander II is missing, nor what that has to do with the Wolfe Islander IV.

In early September 2023, one of the ramps of the Wolfe Islander IV was removed for repairs. At that time (and as is still the case), the Wolfe Islander IV was solely being used for training, and not officially in service yet. However, the Amherst Islander II was not being used for training, so the ramp from that new ferry was removed and then used to replace the damaged ramp on the in-use Wolfe Islander IV.

The new electric ferries for Amherst Island (left) and Wolfe Island (right) at the Picton Terminal. Photo by Picton Terminals by Doornekamp in winter 2022.

Deputy Mayor Townend also shared that the MTO is working on procuring a new ramp from Damen Shipyards, the Dutch shipbuilding company that built both the Wolfe Islander IV and the Amherst Islander II. Once obtained, the new ramp will be kept as a spare for future requirements of both new vessels, Townend said.

The update then moves on to address what is titled “warranty upgrades/deficiencies,” and notes that the MTO is “working with Damen to rectify outstanding deficiencies which are covered under Damen’s original warranty.”

“This work has started and is expected to finish in 2024. The Damen deficiency repairs may require periodic out-of-service periods for work to be completed,” Townend said in the statement.

Finally, the update addresses the ongoing training that is necessary for crew members prior to the new ferry going into service – the same labour shortages impacting the ever-expanding timeline until the Wolfe Islander IV goes into service are also impacting the timeline for the Amherst Islander II.

Townend explained that Loyalist Township staff members have been completing specialized courses at Georgian College over the last several months. That training will ensure the staff members meet Transport Canada requirements to work on the new Amherst Island ferry, however, there is limited availability for some of these courses.

“Township staff have been working with Georgian College to open additional sessions to expedite training for some of the required courses. It is expected that most of the staff members will complete their required courses by February 2024,” the update stated.

The statement went on to say that the onboard training for Amherst Islander II crew members is expected to begin in early 2024, explaining that crew are required to acquire hours of “sea time” – both with and without passengers – on the ferry route before those with limited licences can take their onboard exams. These are requirements outlined by Transport Canada, and it is anticipated that requiring the necessary sea time will take staff members a few months.

“The timelines could be impacted since much of the training is expected to take place during winter, which can produce rougher waters and delay training opportunities. Some key components of the training program include vessel familiarization, safety training, and minimum sea time requirements,” Townend relayed, noting that it will be necessary to arrange for contract crews to operate the current ferry, the Frontenac II, in order to allow for Loyalist Township staff to train on the Amherst Islander II.

As well, adjustments to the existing dock fenders are required to accommodate both ferries at the same time, the statement explained.

According to the communication, the MTO promised $400,000 to Loyalist Township to “assist with staffing resources necessary to operate the existing Amherst Island ferry service, allowing Loyalist Township staff members to complete the required onboard training as identified above.”

“While we are very pleased with a clear path forward, it is not possible to predict an exact in-service date at this time. Loyalist Township and MTO are committed to communicating updates and timelines as we continue this process,” the statement from Townend concludes.

“We are working hard to see the new vessel carry passengers as soon as possible. We want to thank residents and users for their continued patience and trust.”

Kingstonist reached out to the Deputy Mayor for further information on the deficiencies that are being addressed by Damen Shipyards, but Townend was unable to share details on that matter at this time. He did share, however, that the Township is expected to provide further updates regarding the ferry service and the Amherst Islander II in the near future.

Asked why he’s become the de facto liaison between Loyalist Township and the federal and provincial agencies involved with ferry operations, Townend was frank.

“Residents are understandably restless and frustrated, and need to hear from their municipality. I am the executive authority on the ferry file as a delegation of the mayor’s authority,” Townend told Kingstonist, noting that Mayor Jim Hegadorn has a conflict of interest in Township dealings ferry matters as he is employed by the MTO.

Townend has plenty of experience when it comes to matters concerning ferry services, as he not only lives on Amherst Island, but he also represented the Island as a councillor prior to becoming deputy mayor.

“So, the mayor thinks I’m the best person to head up this job,” he said.

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