Residents and business owners in the Village of Gagetown are demanding answers from the provincial government: They want their ferry back, and they say the government doesn’t understand the magnitude of the issue.
Without the ferry operating, it’s difficult to get across the river quickly, says Save the Gagetown Ferry committee member Andrew MacInnis.
“We’ve had a ferry between Gagetown and Jemseg for almost 90 years and in the last year the provincial government decided to discontinue service,” says MacInnis.
The government cited low ridership as one of the reasons for stopping operation of the ferry, MacInnis says, but he disagrees with that reason.
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“We know that on the average there are 86,000 vehicles that use the ferry a year and in excess of 150,000 people,” says MacInnis.
He says the second reason he was told that the ferry was no longer serviceable was because it was no longer in compliance with safety standards. MacInnis says the province spent $150,000 dollars last spring to bring the ferry up to standard.
“They ran it last summer from the end of July to December 1, 2015 before taking it out of service. There’s no reason if it was in compliance on December first of last year, that it still wouldn’t be suitable for service,” says MacInnis.
Hugh Harmon is also a member of the committee and a long-time ferry user, as well as a local farmer — with land on both sides of the river.
“It’s a huge inconvenience. It’s going to change our way of living, and our way of operating here. I’m talking about everyone here. From our tourism, businesses, and the way we live our lives,” says Harmon.
MacInnis says it would normally be a seven minute drive from the Gagetown side to his house in Lower-Jemseg with the use of the ferry. He says that without the ferry it now takes him half-an-hour.
MacInnis says the area has many, many small businesses that are to some extent dependent on the ferry. These businesses include craft shops, artisan studios, restaurants, bed and breakfasts and campgrounds.
“There are many different, private initiatives that have a low profit margin and the loss of this vital link will have an impact economically on all of them, and some will fail as a result,” says MacInnis.
He says the food bank is also running into problems.
“We have a food bank in Lower-Jemseg that services about 30 to 40 families — many of which are on this side of the river. Workers travel back-and-forth depending on which home they’re going to.”
Harmon is a beef farmer and says taking away the ferry is causing stress because he relies on it to get his farming equipment across the river. He says the roads he would have to take without the ferry don’t allow him to drive over farm equipment.
“They cut this ferry in the budget and it was a total surprise to us and we’re just gobsmacked by this. We’re definitely going to fight this. We’re not going to stop until we get our ferry service back,” Harmon says.
Creekview restaurant owner Barbara Masters is also running into issues.
“It’s affecting me trying to hire. I’m trying to hire somebody else and they said ‘well I’d have to travel 40 minutes to get here and 40 minutes to get back home without the ferry,’ so they’re waiting to see if the ferry is going to come before they make a decision whether they want to work here or on the other side of the river,” says Masters.
That has left Masters working more hours herself. Masters also says she’s not seeing the same weekend traffic into the village now that the ferry is no longer in service.
“I just don’t see the people coming down to…check and clean-up their camps and things. They’re going down the highway, not coming in through. Whereas before they would come in through, visit Gagetown, spend some money and then go over across the ferry,” says Masters.
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The committee has organized a protest at the legislature for Wednesday, May 18.
“We’re determined to have this service restored,” says MacInnis.
MacInnis says the ferry has connected communities on both sides of the river for several generations.
The committee has been petitioning the government on a regular basis since January, and the group wants a real explanation as to why they’ve stopped service, and for the province to justify their decision to area residents.
“It’s just as if someone took a piece of road and closed it, and said ‘look, you’re going to have to find another way,’ and the other way is the better part of an hour when you go over and come back,” says MacInnis.
MacInnis and Harmon are hoping the protest will get the government to take a second look at the issue.
“There are many, many people who are concerned and we’ve presented a paper petition to the legislature in-excess of 4,500 names on it.
“We have a Facebook following of upwards of 5,000, so there’s a groundswell of support and we feel that we’re not being treated fairly and that we’re being ignored,” says MacInnis.
“The next step right now is the legislature, but goodness knows what will happen after that,” says MacInnis.
The government was unavilable to comment on the issue Friday.