Province delays promised meeting about Amherst Island ferry service

The new ferries for Amherst Island (left) and Wolfe Island (right) have been docked unused at Picton Terminal since October 2021. Photo by Picton Terminals by Doornekamp.

In a series of social media posts on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022, Loyalist Township acknowledged the growing frustration of residents who depend on ferry services and the delay of employing the new electric ferry for Amherst Island.

In the posts, the Township stated that they would be meeting with the province this week to share those concerns. However, it now appears the Township may have jumped the gun on announcing when that meeting would occur.

Since their arrival in Canada in September of last year, the new electric ferries for both Amherst Island and Wolfe Island have remained docked at their “temporary” port in Picton Terminal.

In one of the December 13 social media posts, Loyalist Township acknowledged “residents’ concerns regarding the in-service launch of the Amherst Islander II. For Amherst Island residents, the ferry is their lifeline,” and pointed out that the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) “is responsible for the procurement, possession, ownership, maintenance, and current storage of the vessel. As such, any information pertinent to the vessel’s current status remains the responsibility of the Ministry of Transportation.” 

The posts continued by explaining that, at the previous night’s council meeting on Monday, Dec. 12, “Deputy Mayor [Nathan] Townend and Councillor [Lorna] Willis advised that the Township is scheduled to attend a meeting this week with MPP Bresee and the Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Transportation. This meeting is an opportunity to share our concerns and challenges regarding the in-service launch of the Amherst Islander II. The Township will also implore the Ministry of Transportation to deliver and communicate a clearly articulated plan, with realistic timelines defining a path forward to commissioning the Amherst Islander II.”

Loyalist Township expressed their intention to meet with the province this week in social media posts made on Twitter and Facebook, Tuesday, Dec. 13. Screen captured image.

However, that meeting did not, apparently, take place.

MPP Ric Bresee’s office provided the following statement on Thursday, Dec. 15:

“In my previous role as the Mayor of Loyalist, we had a long history of working with MTO toward the completion of the ferry docks and the acquisition of the exciting new electric ferry. I completely understand the frustration of both Loyalist Council and the residents regarding delays in this project. I commend the leadership of the current Council for its ongoing advocacy. I have previously arranged meetings with MTO on their behalf and am currently working toward getting another set up.”

Kingstonist also contacted Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney, asking for an interview to “provide a comment about the situation in the Kingston area regarding two brand new electric ferries that were ordered over five years ago, arrived in the area over a year ago, but are still not in service[.]” Mulroney was also asked why the two multi-million-dollar are sitting at a dock and not being used to service the residents of Wolfe and Amherst Islands who rely on ferries for access to the mainland.

Dakota Brasier, Senior Communications Advisor and Press Secretary to Minister Mulroney, instead provided a statement from Ministry of Transportation Senior Media Relations Advisor, Aruna Aundhia, which explained that “The vessel is not able to operate without the required complement of licensed crew aboard as per Transport Canada regulations.” 

Aundhia’s statement continued, “Ontario is facing the largest labour shortage in a generation with nearly 400,000 jobs going unfilled, including in the seafarer industry. The current seafarer shortage is industry-wide, which has resulted in staffing challenges for ferry services in general. The ministry is reviewing its hiring and staff retention practices to ensure both service continuity and value for Ontario taxpayers. MTO is actively recruiting for all its marine services positions and has reached out to local mariners.   

“The ministry is working diligently to complete the construction of the mainland and island side docks as soon as possible. The ministry understands the impact of service disruptions to the public and is seeking long-term solutions to minimize further disruptions. We are working to get the new Wolfe Islander IV and the Amherst Islander II ferries into service as soon as possible.” 

On Friday morning, Deputy Mayor Townend’s office passed along this statement: 

“Loyalist Township is proud to operate the Amherst Island ferry service, in partnership with the Ministry of Transportation. The construction of modern ferry terminals and the procurement of a new, fully electric ferry is a once-in-a-generation investment in this service, and we remain excited to see it through to completion.

“As the operator of the Amherst Island ferry service, Loyalist has been doing everything we can to anticipate challenges and changes needed to accommodate the new ferry when it arrives, including hiring new staff. 

“Nevertheless, operational considerations remain subsequent to the primary work of getting the Amherst Islander II to the Stella Dock. When it comes to that critical issue, Loyalist Township is not in a position to comment. This is because the new vessel is not owned by Loyalist Township, nor is it in our possession. 

The Township has been working with MTO to establish updated timelines for the ferry’s expected arrival for in-service operation, which can be communicated to our residents. In order to assist the MTO and Loyalist Township [to] move forward in a constructive, coordinated, and clearly communicated way, we have requested a delegation with the Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Transportation. 

“Loyalist has sought this delegation through Mr. Ric Bresee, MPP for [Hastings —] Lennox and Addington, who is a knowledgeable advocate for us on this matter and has assured us a meeting is imminent. Once a date for the delegation has been set, Loyalist will communicate that to our residents, as well as the outcome of what we fully expect will be a successful meeting.”

Councillor Willis, who represents Amherst Island, also provided a prepared statement: “The ferry serves as a lifeline for Island residents, farmers, and businesses. For many residents, it is also their workplace. Over a year ago, we celebrated as the Amherst Islander sailed past the island to her ‘temporary’ berth in Picton. Since then, a lack of communication from the Ministry of Transportation has left the community anxious as the in-service date seems uncertain. Islanders simply want to know what the plan is to commission the new ferry and when they can expect her to be in service.”

Meanwhile, service disruptions with the current Wolfe Island ferry continue to leave many on Wolfe Island frustrated with being unable to rely on consistent ferry service.

Kingstonist will continue to monitor these situations and provide updated coverage if/when more information becomes available.

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