The fight to bring back the Gagetown ferry is far from over according to farmers and local business owners in the Village of Gagetown.
Save the Gagetown-Jemseg Ferry committee organizer Wilf Hiscock said residents won’t give up despite the government standing their ground.
“This ferry right here was the bread and blood of this community,” Hiscock said.
Hiscock owns Charlotte’s Family Orchard and said there’s been a decline in tourism and business in the area since the ferry that connects the Village of Gagetown to Lower Jemseg stopped running in 2015.
Hiscock said having to go around means people having to travel an extra 66 kilometres per day. He said that adds up to an extra 10,000 kilometres per year to get back and forth to work.
“A lot of people who work and live on either side of the river are minimum-wage earners and it really impacts their bottom dollar,” Hiscock said.
“We considered ourselves on both sides of the river as one community,” Hiscock said. “All of the sudden, we’re split down the middle.”
Hiscock said there was “easy access” that was a lot less expensive before, and to go around is an added expense to people who are “trying to make a buck.”
He compared the loss of the ferry to how Frederictonians might feel if the Westmorland Street Bridge was torn down.
“We don’t need it but it’s much more convenient and it’s much better to do business when you have that short distance,” Hiscock said.
Lakefield Farm owner Hugh Harmon grows broiler chickens and beef cattle on the Jemseg side of the river, but has property on both sides.
“For our way of life here, it’s something that we’re just not willing to give up,” Harmon said.
He said he has to hire a tractor trailer to bring hay home to the farm.
“We’re trying to build a farm here and we’re trying to buck the trend of the disappearance of agriculture in this province,” Harmon said.
He said anyone who’s experienced the frustration of road closures, detours, temporary bridge closures or washouts in their communities can sympathize with what the community is going through.
“We’re appealing to the whole province for support here,” Harmon said.
Conservative MLA for Gagetown-Petitcodiac Ross Wetmore has been petitioning the Liberal government to reinstate the ferry and said he’s been fighting to keep the ferry in service since 2009.
“It is important to tourism in our area, and to the economic well being of our area and to help our farm community,” Wetmore said.
Wetmore said the committee is meeting with as many stakeholders as they can and said a meeting is scheduled with opposition leader Blaine Higgs. He said the committee will be presenting Higgs with a business plan for a new ferry.
“I’ve got enough petitions that I will be presenting petitions every day in this house until the Save the Gagetown Ferry committee sees the defeat of the Gallant Liberal government or a new ferry put in place,” Wetmore said.
New Brunswick Transportation Minister Bill Fraser said the petitions won’t make a difference.
He said getting rid of the ferry was a “tough decision” the government had to make, but said the decision is final.
Harmon said having Wetmore read the petition in the legislature has shown the community how much support they have in the province. Harmon said there are people all over the world who are signing the petition.
“We are more than willing to work with government to try and rectify this wrong,” Hiscock said. He said he would love the opportunity to explain how important the ferry is, face-to-face with the premier.
“For me and for everybody else, it’s a major, major inconvenience. And for our future — we believe in this province, we believe in our communities and we want to see them grow and we want to be able to pay our taxes and be good, helpful citizens but this is one of our tools and this tool’s been taken from us and we cannot operate without it,” Harmon said.
Fraser said he understands that people are unhappy with that decision, but said the decision is final. The minister said it’s important the community and province “proactively work together” to highlight all the positives in the community.
Fraser said the community has “a lot to offer in terms of tourism” and criticized Wetmore for continuing to “beat a drum that’s not going to have a change to the outcome.”
But Hiscock and Harmon told Global News they won’t give up. They said they’re disappointed the province is investing “hundreds of millions” in infrastruture projects across the province but won’t invest $2.5 M in the ferry. Hiscock said it would likely cost even less because the committee isn’t expecting the previous 12-month operation back. They said they would be happy with a ferry running between the spring and winter freeze-up.
“We’re actually going to get our ferry back eventually. That’s just the way it’s gonna be,” Harmon said.
“We’re not asking for the world. Just something simple that we can drive on and go across the river to do our business,” Hiscock said.