Chi-Cheemaun season delayed
The opening of the Chi-Cheemaun’s annual sailing season has been delayed for at least a week.
Originally scheduled to begin on May 3, the start of the season has been pushed back to at least May 10 because low water levels have made it unsafe for the ferry to dock at Tobermory and at South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island.
Owen Sound Transportation Company president and CEO Susan Schrempf said late Monday afternoon that it was a difficult decision to make.
“It was also an obvious decision once we got today’s water levels,” Schrempf said. “As of now we need them to go up two-tenths of a metre.”
The OSTC, which is the owner/operator of the ferry, made the announcement in a statement on its website on Monday. The statement said that while water levels have slowly increased over the last week, they are still below the minimum level required for the ferry to operate safely from the existing docking fenders at the two locations.
Schrempf said the water levels have been holding at about 20 centimetres below where they need to be for about the past three days.
Fenders, often called bumpers, at the docking terminal are too high to accommodate the vessel due to the drop in water levels. Fenders protect the vessel and passengers during docking.
Schrempf said the agency doesn’t know what to expect because it is facing a situation it has never been in before.
“Last year at this time water levels were at the right height, obviously,” said Schrempf. “We are 20 centimetres down from there and how long it is going to take to get it up from there, I don’t know.”
The annual Spring Cruise on Thursday will go ahead as scheduled as water levels have risen sufficiently to permit safe docking of the vessel in its light condition with passengers only, Schrempf said.
The passengers will board in Owen Sound before making the trip to Tobermory. They will then be bused back to Owen Sound, as originally planned. The Chi-Cheemaun will then return to Owen Sound as well.
Schrempf couldn’t comment on the financial implications of the delay, but did say that any delay will affect traffic well into the season.
“During the spring, that is when traffic builds, so it builds right up into the summer,” said Schrempf. “if you start two weeks later, three weeks later, four weeks later, you still have to go through that build process. Your traffic isn’t going to be instantaneously at peak, so I think the financial implications are going to carry through the season. They aren’t just going to be limited to however many weeks we are delayed.”
Schrempf said the delay could also mean employees will have to be layed off.
“If we have no work for them we will be forced into the position of having to lay them off and that is a place we would not like to be,” said Schrempf.
Schrempf still doesn’t know if there is a possibility the fenders will be modified this season. The provincial and federal governments are in disagreement over who should pay the $272,000 cost to modify the two docking terminals.
While the OSTC, which is an agency of the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, owns and operates the Chi-Cheemaun and is responsible for operating the docking terminals, the terminals themselves are owned and maintained by Transport Canada.
Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MP Larry Miller said the federal ministry has received a legal opinion that has determined the fender work is not considered maintenance under its agreement with the OSTC, but rather a modification. A legal letter from the province to Transport Canada says the modifications are Transport Canada’s responsibility, an opinion shared by Northern Development Minister Michael Gravelle.
Miller and Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MPP Bill Walker have both said they will press for the work to get finished until there is a resolution.
Weekly updates on the status of the sailing schedule for the Chi-Cheemaun will be provided on Mondays at http://www.ontarioferries.com.