Gate­way no more

Freight ser­vice to Labrador end­ing in Lewis­porte next spring

The Central Voice - - Front Page - BY KYLE GREEN­HAM kyle.green­ham@gan­der­bea­con.ca

Lewis­porte will be los­ing its long-stand­ing freight ferry ser­vice to Labrador, of­fi­cially end­ing in March of next year.

The freight ser­vice to coastal Labrador stood as a sta­ple ser­vice of Lewis­porte for gen­er­a­tions. It’s where the town got its moniker of “Gate­way to the North” and signs and arte­facts of Lewis­porte’s ship­ping le­gacy are seen through­out the com­mu­nity.

How­ever, the ship­ping of goods and sup­plies to Labrador from the ferry port in Lewis­porte has been on a grad­ual de­cline for many years. Mayor Betty Clarke says the town knew this day would come, but it still came as a shock when the an­nounce­ment fi­nally ar­rived.

“It’s a sad day for Lewis­porte when we will no longer have the coastal ship­ping ser­vice here, but we just have to move for­ward,” Clarke said.

In early Septem­ber, the Wood­ward Group and its sub­sidiary Labrador Ma­rine Inc. un­veiled their plans for a new roll-on, roll-off ser­vice from Happy Val­ley-Goose Bay. This ser­vice, pro­jected to be­gin in March next year, will take the place of the freight ship­ping to the north­ern coasts of Labrador cur­rently done out of Lewis­porte.

Clarke and Lewis­porte-Twillingate MHA Derek Ben­nett were given ad­vance no­tice of this de­ci­sion back in May from Trans­porta­tion and Works Min­is­ter Steve Crocker. Since then, dis­cus­sions have al­ready been held with Crocker and Premier Dwight Ball as to how the town can cope with the loss that will re­sult once the freight ser­vice docks its last trip.

“This will have a ma­jor im­pact on our busi­ness com­mu­nity,” said Clarke. “We will lose around nine-10 po­si­tions at the wharf, and the ship­ping from su­per­mar­kets and build­ing sup­ply stores here will also be af­fected.

“Lewis­porte was told in the past we’d re­ceive some di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion fund­ing once the ser­vice did close, and the signs are there that this will still go ahead.”

Ac­cord­ing to Ben­nett, the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment has in­di­cated their will­ing­ness to work with the town and find ar­eas to di­ver­sify and cre­ate em­ploy­ment. He says a date is cur­rently be­ing fi­nal­ized to meet again with Crocker and Ball, and it will likely be in late Septem­ber or early Oc­to­ber.

“We would like to have ac­cess to the in­fra­struc­ture al­ready there and find new ways it can be uti­lized,” Ben­nett said. “The ser­vic­ing and main­te­nance of ships will likely con­tinue there af­ter the freight ser­vice shuts down.

“The specifics and de­tails of what will come will be dis­cussed in up­com­ing meet­ings.”

Domino-ef­fect through the area

Lorne Jen­nings has been man­ager of Pritch­ett’s Build­ing Sup­plies in Lewis­porte for over 30 years. He says his busi­ness has sent ev­ery­thing from ply­wood, lum­ber, win­dows, doors, elec­tri­cal and plump­ing sup­plies to the coasts of Labrador for decades.

“When the freight ship­ping starts to Labrador and our cus­tomers down there start putting in or­ders it gets pretty crazy in our yard,” Jen­nings said. “We’re go­ing to feel like a ghost town next year when the Labrador or­ders stop. It’s go­ing to feel strange, there’s no doubt about it.”

Pritch­ett’s is one of many busi­nesses that will ex­pe­ri­ence a domino-ef­fect of lost rev­enue when the ship­ping of good and sup­plies to Labrador shuts down. De­spite the con­cerns, Jen­nings is cer­tain his busi­ness will find ways to con­tinue.

‘A sad day’

Ben­nett knows the le­gacy of the freight ser­vice to Labrador first-hand, as his fa­ther worked from the port for over 40 years. The MHA says he and the town will work to en­sure Lewis­porte can adapt as the ser­vice moves closer to clo­sure.

“As you drive into Lewis­porte with the North­ern Ranger at our wel­come sign you see that his­tory is a part of our com­mu­nity,” he said. “No one was re­ally sur­prised by this an­nounce­ment, but ev­ery­one knows it’s a sad day.”

Pe­ter Wood­ward, vice-pres­i­dent of oper­a­tions of the Wood­ward Group and CEO of Labrador Ma­rine Inc. was reached for com­ment but was not avail­able by dead­line.

FILE PHOTO

Lewis­porte Mayor Betty Clarke says the town and the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment are work­ing to en­sure di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion fund­ing is in place to com­bat eco­nomic loss af­ter the freight ser­vice from Lewis­porte to Labrador ends.

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