Send­ing Le­gion­naire away not an op­tion, Bell Is­land pro­test­ers say

Protest at ferry dock go­ing around the clock

The Beacon (Gander) - - Sports - BY GLEN WHIFFEN

Pro­test­ers who kept the MV Le­gion­naire at dock on the Bell Is­land side of the tickle Mon­day say they would not let the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment move the ves­sel to Fogo Is­land as was an­nounced last week.

The protest be­gan Satur­day af­ter­noon as fears spread on so­cial me­dia that the new boat — that only came into ser­vice in July on the Bell Is­land run — would be sent to Fogo Is­land to fill in for the Vet­eran that was com­ing out of ser­vice for re­pairs.

The protest grew in num­bers like a swell ris­ing in the bay, with some stay­ing at the dock overnight to en­sure the boat did not sail away un­der the cover of dark­ness.

Va­lerie Ryan or­ga­nized the protest. She said res­i­dents have been com­plain­ing and dis­cussing the is­sue on so­cial me­dia for days and when some­one sug­gested they or­ga­nize a protest, she vol­un­teered to head it up.

“I’ve com­plained my­self on Face­book and we’ve all bitched and com­plained on Face­book but we’ve never done any­thing about it as a group,” she said. “I’ve never (or­ga­nized) any­thing like this in my life, so we started calling peo­ple.

“We tried to find out when the Le­gion­naire was ac­tu­ally leav­ing and we couldn’t get an an­swer, so a bunch of us boarded the ferry on Satur­day and rode back and forth on the ferry and when were fi­nally told at 5 p.m. it was com­ing over here, off-load­ing and leav­ing, we got as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble to meet down here and park ve­hi­cles on the ramp and block the ramp, and we’ve been here ever since.”

On Fri­day, the prov­ince’s De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion and Works an­nounced changes for ferry users of the Fogo Is­land, Change Is­lands and Bell Is­land routes. The Le­gion­naire was to be­gin ser­vic­ing the Fogo Is­land-Change Is­lands-Farewell route, while the Beau­mont Hamel would join the Flan­ders to ser­vice the Bell Is­land-Por­tu­gal Cove route.

The changes were to go into ef­fect on Sun­day, but were foiled by the protest.

The changes were needed, the gov­ern­ment said, to main­tain ser­vice while the MV Vet­eran un­der­goes re­pairs to its port thruster. That ves­sel is ex­pected to re­turn to ser­vice on the Fogo run in early Jan­uary, and then the Le­gion­naire would re­turn to the Bell Is­land run.

Mon­day morn­ing at “the beach” on Bell Is­land, fire bar­rels pro­vided some warmth and sent a smell of wood smoke among the pro­test­ers who were bol­stered from the re­sponse and sup­port they have re­ceived from the rest of the com­mu­nity. Two ve­hi­cles were parked on the ramp to the Le­gion­naire and two trucks blocked the en­trance to the ramp. Food and cof­fee were plen­ti­ful as pro­test­ers say they were de­ter­mined to stay un­til they get as­sur­ance from the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment that the Le­gion­naire was stay­ing put.

“We’ve made it known we are ac­cept­ing no con­ces­sions,” Ryan said. “We want the Le­gion­naire to stay and that’s the bot­tom line. We are ac­cept­ing noth­ing short of that. We will stay here and protest un­til we are phys­i­cally re­moved.”

Wa­bana Mayor Gary Go­sine and area MHA David Brazil were try­ing to ar­range meet­ings with the de­part­ment and its min­is­ter, Steve Crocker, to try to find a so­lu­tion.

Crocker agreed to meet Mon­day af­ter­noon.

Mean­while, Crocker was asked about the on­go­ing protests in the House of Assem­bly by Brazil, who ac­cused the min­is­ter of not hav­ing mean­ing­ful di­a­logue with ferry users.

Crocker said mul­ti­ple op­tions were con­sid­ered for ferry as­sign­ments be­fore a de­ci­sion was made and an­nounced, adding the prov­ince is also of­fer­ing 18 trips on the Bell Is­land-Por­tu­gal Cove run start­ing on Tues­day at 5 a.m. to help ad­dress con­cerns. It’s an ad­di­tion of two trips and start­ing with a run ear­lier than the first run on Mon­day morn­ing.

Crocker also said that cost had to be con­sid­ered in de­cid­ing which boats would go where.

Out­side of the House, he was asked to speak fur­ther to the ferry sit­u­a­tion, ahead of a meet­ing set with the ferry users’ com­mit­tee.

“We’re go­ing to have a con­ver­sa­tion … the re­al­ity is here we have to find a way to ac­com­mo­date both ser­vices, but also we have to be mind­ful of the costs to the tax­pay­ers of the prov­ince,” he said.

In terms of re­pair work on new ves­sels, Crocker was asked about war­ranties on the Vet­eran and Le­gion­naire. They were both pur­chased with a one-year war­ranty — some­thing the min­is­ter noted while in the House.

An ex­ten­sion of one year was added for the Vet­eran, to make it a two-year war­ranty, but only through ne­go­ti­a­tions with builder Da­men fol­low­ing early break­downs.

There has been no sim­i­lar ex­ten­sion for the Le­gion­naire, al­though it is not fac­ing the same prob­lems as the Vet­eran right now.

Crocker said an out-of-ser­vice el­e­va­tor on the Flan­ders that pre­vents peo­ple from us­ing that ves­sel is ex­pected to be re­paired by noon on Tues­day.

A state­ment from the de­part­ment early Mon­day evening stated that “meet­ings with the Bell Is­land ferry users com­mit­tee and some pro­test­ers have been pro­duc­tive. Both par­ties have agreed to con­tinue dis­cus­sions. In the mean­time, the MV Flan­ders will con­tinue the en­hanced ser­vice again (Tues­day).”

As the protest went ahead Mon­day, the MV Flan­ders con­tin­ued to work the Bell Is­land run on a load-and-go ba­sis.

There were a num­ber of con­cerns raised on the dock about dis­abled and ill peo­ple not be­ing able to take the Flan­ders. Two is­sues pointed out were that the el­e­va­tor was not work­ing on the Flan­ders and be­cause of a newly en­forced pol­icy, pas­sen­gers are not al­lowed to re­main in their ve­hi­cles dur­ing the ap­prox­i­mately 20-minute ferry ride be­tween the is­land and Por­tu­gal Cove.

Peo­ple were re­lat­ing sto­ries of res­i­dents with dial­y­sis and mo­bil­ity is­sues who were un­able to board the Flan­ders and one per­son who was sched­uled for surgery but would likely have to go by am­bu­lance on the ferry (a pa­tient does re­main in the am­bu­lance dur­ing the cross­ing) or by air am­bu­lance.

“The el­e­va­tor on the Flan­ders is bro­ken. Any­body who is dis­abled who can­not use the stairs can­not board that ferry,” Ryan said. “Be­cause of this lu­di­crous rule that you have to exit your ve­hi­cle, re­gard­less of your med­i­cal con­di­tion, re­gard­less if you can barely walk, we have dial­y­sis pa­tients and pa­tients re­ceiv­ing chemo­ther­apy that have to exit their ve­hi­cles for a 20-minute ferry ride.

“When the new ferry came (in July), we thought we’d died and gone to heaven. Your work­days were now a nine or 10hour day in­stead of a 16- to 18-hour day. Peo­ple used to spend three hours wait­ing in the ferry line.”

Res­i­dent Henry Crane said there are about 400 peo­ple on Bell Is­land who use the ferry dur­ing the first three trips each day to com­mute to St. John’s for work. He said the Le­gion­naire can take up to 70 ve­hi­cles and 200 pas­sen­gers per trip, mean­ing that in those three trips the ferry moves 210 ve­hi­cles and 600 pas­sen­gers.

“If the Le­gion­naire goes, the gov­ern­ment wants to put the Beau­mont Hamel on the run,” he said. “The Beau­mont Hamel takes 26-28 ve­hi­cles per trip which comes to about 78 ve­hi­cles and 106 pas­sen­gers over three trips.

“A man or woman who is go­ing to work at 8 a.m., they have to come down (to line up for the ferry) at 4 a.m. to get a ticket to get on that boat.”

The pro­test­ers point out that in 2015-16, Bell Is­land moved 474,600 pas­sen­gers and 231,000 ve­hi­cles, while Fogo Is­land moved 177,900 pas­sen­gers and 8,930 ve­hi­cles.

Crane says it just makes com­mon sense to keep the ferry with the high­est ca­pac­ity on the busiest run, par­tic­u­larly when Fogo Is­land is not de­mand­ing that the Le­gion­naire be as­signed to that run.

GLEN WHIFFEN/THE TELE­GRAM

Peo­ple on Bell Is­land have been protest­ing since Satur­day and have blocked the MV Le­gion­naire ferry from leav­ing the dock to go to ser­vice the Fogo Is­land-Change Is­lands run. - Glen Whiffen

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