East coast shippers could secure ferry service

SAINT JOHN — Last year, Bay Ferries received much needed government funding to ensure the eastern ferry service remained in tact until 2011, but a long-term plan is on rough waters.

But there is hope. New and better uses for the Saint John-Digby ferry service was the main topic of discussion at a recent forum.

According to the Telegraph-Journal, Mark MacDonald, president and CEO of Bay Ferries, said Thursday it’s hard to foresee a scenario where the ferry service would not require government funding to operate.

One option for alleviating the need for public funds however, would be establishing Saint John as a staging area for local shippers who would then use the Digby ferry to get their products to southern Nova Scotia. This could beef up business on the Princess of Acadia and possibly help secure the future of the 226-year-old crossing.

Due to a drop in tourism and forestry exports, combined with high fuel costs, the Bay of Fundy ferry was almost permanently anchored. Transport Canada, along with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, provided $19.1 million to keep the service going until 2011.

The feds also invested $3 million for the Digby Harbour Port Association to fund operationally necessary repairs to the wharf and the port.

That kind of government cooperation will be necessary to determine the future of the port. According to Enterprise Saint John chairman Bob Manning, it would take a combination of various levels of government working with industry to analyze trade flows and pinpoint opportunities to see if there are products that could be shipped across on the ferry.

Mike Gushue of the Annapolis Digby Economic Development Agency told the forum the ferry’s impact on Saint John’s economy is in the range of $12 million each year and estimated that will grow to $100 million over the next 10 years.

— with files from the Telegraph-Journal

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