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Ferry slip work causing ferry woes for Islands residents on Digby Neck

A load of lumber arrived on the 9 a.m. ferry on Oct. 29 as work got underway for construction work to the slip repair project. AMY TUDOR PHOTO
A load of lumber arrived on the 9 a.m. ferry on Oct. 29 as work got underway for construction work to the slip repair project. AMY TUDOR PHOTO - Contributed
TIVERTON, N.S. —

A significant and months-long project to repair the ferry slips in Tiverton and East Ferry in Digby County will cause frequent, irregular and extended delays in the ferry crossing schedule. 
The work, which is now underway, is urgently needed and due to the nature of the work the interruption to service is understood. 
However, the short-term advance notification from the province about the work schedule, coupled with the inability for long-term planning as a result of that, left residents and service providers at a loss when trying to plan travel via the ferry more than one or two days ahead of time.
On Oct. 17 the Nova Scotia Department of Transportation Infrastructure and Renewal (TIR) issued a public notice announcing a single meeting regarding “major repairs to take place to the Tiverton and East Ferry slips.” This meeting was called for Friday, Oct. 25, to take place from 2-5 p.m. in Tiverton. The notice – which has been criticized by locals as being rather plain and ‘unofficial looking’ – was posted to Facebook and on bulletin boards around the Islands. 
On Oct. 25, John Majchrowicz, manager of Marine Services for TIR, held not so much a meeting – in people’s views – but rather an information session. And some residents who came to the Tiverton Community Hall around 3 p.m. found the information session was over and TIR representatives had left, despite the session being advertised from 2-5 p.m. Many residents saw this as poor communication from TIR about an impactful event as ferry service disruptions. 
During the information session, the transportation department presented a six-page slide show that outlined the condition of the slips, the expected impact to the ferry service and tide charts with low tide times highlighted. The charts highlighted the low tide times as TIR had identified these as peak times for possible construction. Delays in ferry service, the department said, are expected to last for between two to six hours around the low tide times when work is underway. 
The charts were aimed at helping residents plan their travel in the long-term around the possible construction times, however, weather and other factors will also come into play.
A construction timetable of October to the end of December 2019 was listed for the Tiverton slip with a construction timeframe of April 2020 to August 2020 listed for East Ferry.

A 2018 photo of the Margaret's Justice ferry making a trip with a load of vehicles and people as a lobster boat also shares the passage. AMY TUDOR PHOTO
A 2018 photo of the Margaret's Justice ferry making a trip with a load of vehicles and people as a lobster boat also shares the passage. AMY TUDOR PHOTO

 

FERRY SLIP CONDITIONS


Part of the information that was supplied was the condition of the ferry slips.
In East Ferry, existing conditions were described as:
• Grout popped out of connections
• Pieces of connection missing/broken/not functioning
• Steel edging corroded
• Some steel plate repairs completed
• Pieces of steel ripped/curled up due to ferry ramp
• Steel plate abrasion
• Concrete abrasion
• Rusted concrete reinforcement
• Slabs losing some anchorage
The Tiverton existing conditions were noted as:
• Constructed in 1955 and top surfaced in 1980 the slip requires a complete rebuild.
• The slip is deteriorating both on top and bottom of structure.
• Serious undermining has occurred requiring cribs to be rebuilt.
• Pieces of connection missing/broken/not functioning.
• Steel edging corroded.

The condition of the Tiverton slip on Oct. 29. AMY TUDOR PHOTO
The condition of the Tiverton slip on Oct. 29. AMY TUDOR PHOTO

 

SINCE THEN


On Oct. 29 an updated impact statement was released through the public Facebook group: Digby Neck and Islands Ferry Information explaining more about service disruptions, which will occur during low tide periods. Construction work will also take place at night, when possible.
Methods of communications were also outlined, which will include 24-hour-or-greater notification of work posted to the Facebook group; details included through the highway information 511 phone service; the Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Twitter page @NS_TIR; information on the ferry itself and by calling the ferry at 902-839-2882.
The school bus schedule would remain unchanged, the province said.
“The work taking place to the ramp, wharf and fenders are necessary to ensure the service remains safe and efficient for the long term,” said Marla MacInnis, TIR media relations advisor for the province. “Waterworks Construction (owned by Dexter Construction) is doing the work. The tender was awarded for $2,830,475.”
“The school bus service will remain consistent and we will work closely with EHS to ensure the ferry is prepared to return to service immediately in the event of a medical emergency,” she added.

WORK UNDERWAY


On Oct. 29 a truckload of lumber arrived in Tiverton on the 9 a.m. ferry and by 6 p.m. that day the lumber was already being used for the beginning construction stages of the cradle structure for the ferry slip. 
The first post about ferry schedules in the Facebook group came Nov. 5 at 2 p.m. informing of a couple of short delays scheduled around 10 a.m. the next morning. 
On Nov. 8 a second post reported to residents that there would be no interruptions until at least Nov. 13. On Nov. 11 a posting advised of interruptions scheduled for Nov. 13 and 14 with service delays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
On Nov. 15 the following notification of postings was included, spelling out the schedule and interruptions for the upcoming week: Monday, Nov 18, 8 a.m.-11 a.m.; Tuesday, Nov 19, 8 a.m.-12 p.m.; Wednesday, Nov 20, 9:05 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Thursday, Nov 21, 10:05 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Friday, Nov. 22, 10:05 a.m. to 2 p.m. It was also noted in that posting: "The return of the ferry could vary some, either way."
In addition to posting information online, TIR has also installed digital signboards at the junction roads that display ferry information.

Alerts about the ferry and its schedule and disruptions are posted online but signage has also been added. AMY TUDOR PHOTO
Alerts about the ferry and its schedule and disruptions are posted online but signage has also been added. AMY TUDOR PHOTO

 

IMPACTS OF THE WORK


The interruptions in service have affected residents. A regular scheduled delivery to R.E. Robicheau store on Brier Island did not make it on Nov. 14 due to the lack of ferry service. 
The province’s statement ‘School bus schedule as usual’ has also not been completely correct. Islands Consolidated School announced the following on Nov. 13: “CLT Day Cancellations: please take notice that the scheduled CLT days for Nov. 14 and Nov. 28 have been cancelled due to the ferry service interruptions. These two dates will be regular school days. We will be sending out a notice and calling all students' parents/guardians in Grades P-6. If you have any questions please contact us at the school.”
There are two school buses and drivers employed to drive the students. One lives on the Islands with the bus kept in Freeport. The second driver and the bus are located on the mainland. Many of the school staff, including teachers and support staff, are not Island residents. The school bus schedule may run “as usual,” but school staff may have other commitments that could affect their ability to get to or leave work on time. This disruption could put extracurricular activities at risk.

HEALTH CARE ACCESS CONCERNS


Health care is a main concern for residents. TIR has committed to making sure EHS services are a priority and will stop any work to accommodate emergency crossings. While the policy addresses emergencies, residents are wondering how they will manage scheduled appointments and medical tests. With medical appointments – which aren’t easy to get – often booked weeks or months in advance, residents need to know when they can schedule appointments for. 
The Islands Clinic offers blood collection services Tuesdays to Thursdays from 8-10 a.m. The scheduled collections for Nov. 13 and 14 were cancelled due to a lack of ferry service. 

LOBSTER SEASON QUESTIONS


The Islands are part of Lobster Fishing Area 34, which is set to open its season on Nov. 25. The construction and delays will affect this busy and very profitable time for the communities. The Tiverton wharf that is used to store and load traps on for the boats during the season opener has had trailers, machines and other large obstacles associated with the building project around it. It has been mentioned on Facebook that the NSTIR would allow fishermen access to the wharf for loading traps; however, no official plan has been posted. 
Even with allowed access, all the ‘extras’ now on the wharf will make for tricky maneuvering of trucks and trailer loads of traps. Once the lobsters are landed, the scheduling with off-Island buyers, compounded by tired crew, could lead to great frustrations. Other deliveries vital to the industry, such as bait, supplies, parts and oil, could also be delayed. Those delays could cost the fishermen time and money during this peak time. 

Some of the early work. AMY TUDOR PHOTO
Some of the early work. AMY TUDOR PHOTO

 

OTHER IMPACTS


The mail and parcel service to the Islands is expected to be affected as well. As of mid-November, Canada Post did not yet have a plan in place to deal with any potential delays.
Personal travel time for Island residents will also have to be even more carefully planned. Residents may need to get to a doctor’s appointment or go to work. They may also want to go to an entertainment or sporting event. How the ferry interruptions will affect individual residents will vary, but for many there is an overall sense of loss in personal freedom and being ‘trapped’ on the Islands.
During the Tiverton upgrade in November and December the bulk of the people affected by any ferry disruptions will be Islanders and other people are accustomed to the ferry schedules. 
The situation will be different when it comes to the East Ferry upgrades, which are scheduled to take place from April to August 2020. Spring and summer are when the economy switches from fishing to tourism. This change in season also brings with it a new type of traveller – the tourists, who for the most part are already not familiar with the ferries and the schedules. There is concern that hearing of possible delays or cancellations of crossings could keep tourists from getting to the Islands. The whale watching industry on the Islands is already set to tight sailing schedules as it is. Simple overloads during peak season can delay tour operators from sailing by waiting for customers to arrive. 
During the peak tourism season, the ferries are often sailing back and forth with many overloads of cars coming and going. If the ferry were to shut down for six hours during this time, thousands of dollars of much-needed revenue to the Island could be lost. 
“We have spoken to whale tour operators and are committed to working with them so that there is as minimal an impact to them as possible,” said Marla MacInnis on behalf of the department.

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