Page Seventy

28 JANUARY 2006

Shouts out to the folks in Tillsonburg...

Ferry proposals hinge on funding
FERRY: Port Stanley Burwell’s closest competitor

Jeff Helsdon - Staff Writer
Friday January 20, 2006

The Tillsonburg News — One ferry, two ferry, three or four?

Just how many, if any ferries at all, will be traversing Lake Erie in the future is the question of the year. Port Burwell was the latest addition to the list of possible sites with a proposal from Seaport Management for both a passenger and freight ferry.

The term for moving freight short distances across water is short sea shipping. Officially Canada has a policy to promote short sea shipping, as does the United States. While the American destinations are receiving funding, such is not the case in Canada.

Marc Fortin, director seaway and domestic shipping policy with Transport Canada, said funding is available to look at business cases, completing studies and promoting short sea shipping opportunities. There is not, however, any money for infrastructure development such as harbour upgrades. He said Canada has commercialized the operation of its ports and does not subsidize any associated costs. Most of the current proposals depend on still-to-be-sourced government funding.

Whether or not Port Burwell’s proposal advances is dependent on if the federal government gets involved, according to Bayham Mayor Lynn Acre. The Port Burwell proposal calls for a crossing to Fairport Harbour, Ohio, which is just east of Cleveland.

It will involve two types of boats, a fast ferry for passengers, cars and small vans and a slower vehicle to carry transport trucks. Danish company Mols Linien, which operates ferries in Europe, is a partner in the venture.
Acre said a cross-Erie ferry will cut several hours off a trip south. She sees the establishment of a ferry port in Port Burwell as a boon not only to the village and rest of Bayham, but also area towns such as Tillsonburg.

Port Burwell is facing some competition in its quest to be the next Canadian ferry port, though.

While Acre said federal support was vital, she also said speed of the development will be critical in deciding which proposal succeeds. “The first one with the ship in the water is going to be the one that will win,” she said. “Mols-Linien has a boat already built and ready to sail.”  The municipality has sent out letters to the federal and provincial governments about the proposal. The next step is to set up meetings to explain the proposal further and start the process to find funding.

To the west of Port Burwell, and its closest competitor, is the Port Stanley ferry proposal. It calls for a high-speed ferry to transport both transport trucks and passengers between Port Stanley and Cleveland. Dutch ferry operator Royal Wagenborg Group is partnering on the initiative. The boat would hold 75 transport trucks, 300 cars, or any combination thereof.

Although only a few residents have been opposed to the proposal, Central Elgin Mayor David Rock said they were a vocal minority.  He said a bigger issue is the ownership of the harbour. Negotiations have been ongoing with Transport Canada for some time and a deal is getting close. Rock hopes to see Central Elgin run the harbour as a corporation.  “We’re a population of a little more than 12,000 and we can’t afford to be in the harbour business and put it on the backs of the taxpayers,” he said. “We need a business plan to operate so it won’t cost the taxpayers.”

The goal is to see the Port Stanley proposal to be operational in 2007.

Asked about the Port Burwell proposal, Rock wished the municipality the best as neighbours. When he was interviewed, he said he hadn’t given a lot of thought to the other proposals.  “I would suspect if they were ever able to get a deal, they would be a few years out (behind),” he said.

The proposal that looks closest to getting off the ground is the Nanticoke freight ferry. This proposal calls for a fast ferry that will hold 120 to 160 transport truck trailers – but no tractors (cabs) – to be transported between Nanticoke and Erie, Pennsylvania. The boat would be a high-speed all-weather boat with ice-breaking capabilities. Likely, a used boat would be purchased from Scandinavia. The already-existing dock at Stelco would be utilized for the proposal. A secured marshalling yard where the trucks could be cleared by customs still needs to be built.

Steve Miazga, general manager of planning and economic development for Haldimand, said the proposal addresses border problems and the issue of drivers being limited in the amount of time they can drive.  “It’s a more efficient way of moving goods,” he said. It’s estimated when the ferry is operating it will divert three to four percent of the traffic from Niagara border crossings, or as many as 200,000 trucks per year.

Miazga said the hope is to see the ferry operating by this fall. The big obstacle is the removal of a maritime tax presently in place in the United States.  Haldimand is partnering with Stelco, the Hamilton Port Authority, Seaway Marine Inc. of St. Catharines and the Western Erie Port Authority on the venture.

A few miles west in Port Dover, Norfolk and Erie are working on a high-speed passenger vehicle ferry proposal. The boat would hold 250 people and 50 cars.  Norfolk’s general manager of community services Bill Hett didn’t have a timeline as to when the service might be operational. Norfolk is currently waiting for funding from the U.S. Congress and the last business case from Erie before making any final decisions.

Norfolk Mayor Rita Kalmbach recently told the Simcoe Reformer the ferry service is unlikely to go ahead. She pegged upgrade costs for the Port Dover Harbour at $10 to $15 million. The county has not been able to secure any provincial or federal funding to aid with ferry development.

More immediate is a proposal driven by the Erie convention centre for a passenger-only 54-foot boat that would hold 50 people.  “The intent was if they were running a major convention, people could come for shopping and lunch across the lake,” Hett said, adding that service would run only during conventions and good weather. It could be operational this year.  Asked if there was room for another ferry service in Port Burwell or Port Stanley, Hett said, “I don’t believe there would be room for all of them to operate efficiently.”

While interest is high in establishing a cross-Erie ferry service, the City of Rochester recently announced it was pulling the plug on the Rochester to Toronto run due to huge losses.

Yet another great town in southwestern Ontario, Tillsonburg has small town charm with a carefully thought-out plan for its future.  It shows in the main street, complete with a signature clock tower integrated into the business core of 'downtown'... which still IS a business core.  Tillsonburg is a jewel set in the wide openness of farming country amid a pace of life far removed from the frenetic rat race of urban Ontario and I fell in love with the place when I first discovered it in 1983.

No dusty bygone relict of the past, Tillsonburg evidently has an economy healthy enough to support businesses and families, no doubt helped by the very attractive and safe region of the province which is highly sought by those fed up with crime, congestion and exorbitant housing costs of metropolitan areas.  Quiet, but lively enough to avoid being boring, Tillsonburg is one quintessentially Canadian town.

The Lake Erie ferry proposals are moving ahead with much studied and careful consideration... something the Toronto-Rochester ferry lacked from the beginning.  While the Rochester concerns rushed headfirst into accommodating the ferry as quickly as possible (all things considered, it took little to no time to design and build a $16 million terminal) the Canadian side of Lake Erie has pursued a more skeptical approach.  Dredging harbours, building docks and permanently changing the flow of traffic in a small community is nothing to be rushed into without some pretty heavy thought.

Either by impetuousness or simply sheer ambition, Rochester failed to think the project through... as the disastrous financial bludgeoning shows.  That's a hallmark of the local business set which relies on idealist theory over realistic pragmatism; instead of 'hurry up and wait', the local Good 'Ol Boys wind up with 'hurry up and pay'.  Haste, with all its obvious shortcomings, keeps the Rochester area mired in debt.

I'm continually humbled by the patience and humility of the residents of southwestern Ontario.  Communities like Tillsonburg, Simcoe and Port Dover are grounding experiences which restore my faith that common sense is still very much alive and well.

Small wonder why I cross the dotted line as often as I do.  Return to sanity, escape from the obnoxious or just another case of 'the grass is always greener'; my Canadian family, friends and neighbours always seem to understand where I'm coming from. 



31 JANUARY 2006

Catamaran or hovercraft; there's still no need.



38º | Hi 39º / Lo 25º |
Hovercraft service pushed
Canadian firm sees one crossing lake by summer

(January 31, 2006) — Even though Rochester's high-speed ferry is out of business, Mark Chapell says the idea of shuttling people across Lake Ontario shouldn't be abandoned.

He insists he has found a cheaper and faster way, envisioning four or five hovercraft whisking passengers from Rochester, Toronto and near Niagara Falls, although that day may not happen for years, if ever.

Canada's Hover Transit Services says a hovercraft can travel to Toronto from Rochester in under two hours.

"The public is going to embrace this," said Chapell, 43, of Perinton, (Yeah, yeah, Mark.  We've heard the line of bull once before.  Go soak yer head, hotshot) who operates a communications business and is vice president of U.S. operations for Canadian-based Hover Transit Services.

HTS said it will soon build its first hovercraft. Pending inspection approvals, it could be ready to take passengers from Toronto to St. Catharines, Ontario, by the summer.

Chapell said hovercraft can travel 70 mph, which would make the trip between Rochester and Toronto in about an hour and a half.

A ride from Niagara County to Toronto would be 20 minutes or less.

"It's not a grandiose service," Chapell said. (Neither is your provincially small vision.  'Perinton'?  Like THAT says, "Bold creative innovation".)

No contracts have been signed, but HTS officials said their plans are more than wishful thinking. Dale Wilson, 30, vice president of operations for HTS, said interest has been high on the Canadian side to promote the Niagara Falls region, where passengers could be bused to casinos or tourist attractions.

However, casino officials said last week they hadn't heard about the proposal.

HTS said service to U.S. locations could come next year, if private funding and agreements with officials on this side of the border can be worked out.

But Chapell said HTS would need some government backing, if only for breaks on docking fees, ramps and costs to rent building space.  ("We've had our share of comedians. Next?")

"The risks are lessened if the cost is guaranteed," he said. (Sorry Marky.  Next time around, the risks have to be completely ELIMINATED.  "Guaranteed".)

Rochester Mayor Robert Duffy said his office has heard from Chapell and he'd like to see some sort of ferry service restored, but that service shouldn't rely on the city to help subsidize it.

Chapell said: "It's amazing the arms that are open in Canada and the deaf ears we're getting in Rochester."  (OK.  Now I KNOW this guy's a douche bag.)

Wilson, of Brampton, Ontario, said he attempted to get permission from the previous city administration to use Rochester's terminal for hovercraft service.

"They claimed we would be infringing on their market," Wilson said. That claim shouldn't be a factor now that Rochester is out of the ferry business.

Building the boat

Last year at this time, Chapell hoped to buy hovercraft that had shuttled passengers across the English Channel for decades. But he abandoned that option because of lack of maintenance, deciding to build new. Each hovercraft would cost $10 million and could carry 140 passengers. He hopes that any service to Rochester would enable HTS to build a ship that could carry cars as well, at a cost of $25 million.

The modular craft, to be built in composite sections by Atlas Hovercraft in Green Cove Springs, Fla., would likely be trucked to Canada, where it would be assembled and tested.

"They're supplying most of the capital and assuming most of the risk," Wilson said of Atlas.

Atlas chief executive Kurt Peterson, 41, a third-generation boat builder, said that although he has yet to build a commercially used hovercraft, he has built several smaller prototypes and expects to sell others to companies in Chicago and Miami, for recreational or shuttle services.

Peterson said he's able to finance the construction.

"We're proving to the industry what we're doing by using our own money," he said. "Nobody has to be losing money. We're not bilking investors of capital."

He said plans are in the works for excursion rides in Chicago, and to ferry passengers from Miami to Key West. Officials at the Navy Pier in Chicago said they have been approached but nothing concrete has been brought to them for consideration.

"A lot of this stuff has been tried before, and didn't make it," said Bob Welsh, a hovercraft consultant and mechanic from Barrie, Ontario, who has been piloting hovercraft all over the world since 1974. "But who knows? Maybe he will make it."

He said a hovercraft is a niche machine that is normally more expensive to operate than a barge, ferry or traditional boat. One service east of Quebec City is now selling its hovercraft, which used to take tourists to see seals and whales.

"It's not going to be any cheaper than a ferry, but never say 'never,'" Welsh said.

Hovercraft plans
Officials from Hover Transit Services hope to have a hovercraft in operation on Lake Ontario this summer. The craft, 100 feet long and 50 feet wide, could carry up to 149 passengers and a crew of up to six.

A hovercraft floats up to eight feet atop a cushion of air it creates, enabling it to travel over waves, ice or land with little friction, making it go faster than a traditional boat. Typical cruising speed would be 70 mph.


The U.S. military uses hovercraft, and there are many small ones used by fire departments for ice or water rescue, including an 18-foot hovercraft based at the Sea Breeze Volunteer Fire Department in Irondequoit. It can hold a driver and two rescuers and one or two victims, depending on their weight.

Bethel, Alaska, may have the only hovercraft currently operating commercially in the United States. For the past nine years, it has been used to bring supplies — up to 13,000 pounds of cargo, including groceries and mail — to eight villages on the Kuskokwim River in southwest Alaska.

That hovercraft, 69 feet long and 35 feet wide, travels only 30 mph because of the twists in the river, said Glen Van Valin, manager of Alaska Hovercraft. It is used all year, except when the river is freezing, usually from the end of October to mid-December. They don't want to break up the freezing ice, because the river is used as a road in the middle of winter, he said.

Niagara connection

Wilson has been talking to U.S. officials, including Neil Riordan, mayor of Youngstown, a village of 2,200 in Niagara County, where the Niagara River meets Lake Ontario.

Riordan said Wilson made a professional pitch to establish a hovercraft service.

In the meantime, though, Riordan said plans are under way to start a ferry service next year across the Niagara River, taking tourists a half mile from Youngstown to Niagara-on-the-Lake, in Canada.

A small ferry, taking 30 to 50 pedestrians, would run a few times on weekdays, more often on weekends, from May through October.

But the mayor said he's taking a wait-and-see approach to Wilson's hovercraft idea, adding that the timing of the pitch wasn't the best because of the "debacle" of Rochester's ferry.

"A great number of people go to Toronto as a destination, and people come through Lewiston, Niagara Falls and western New York," Riordan said. "Interest is high, but we want to do something that is sensible that all agencies can afford."

I'm too busy to write.  There's too much to rip apart.  This entire proposal lacks merit, is bogus, uses precisely the same rationale as the CATS venture, is not needed, will save no time, is a profanity upon this community and highly insulting, challenges logic and reason, and is being pushed by someone who -- once again -- has as much insight into what the typical Canadian wants or needs as much of the rest of the Rochester community.

That amounts to absolute cluelessness.


03 FEBRUARY 2006

Paying the bills...



43º | Hi 49º / Lo 32º |
City settles a ferry debt
Nearly $3.2 million paid to ship's manager; contract buyout pending

(February 1, 2006) — The city has settled up with Bay Ferries Great Lakes LLC for debts covered by the ferry manager, cutting the company a check for nearly $3.2 million.

The city backed a $40 million loan and tried to rescue the ferry service last year after the initial operator went bankrupt. But the project lost $10 million in 10 months as ridership and revenue suffered with a delayed, midseason start and little marketing. Then-Mayor William A. Johnson Jr. proposed borrowing $11.5 million more to keep things going. City Council backed the idea but delayed going forward until Mayor Robert Duffy could weigh in after taking office Jan. 1. Duffy announced Jan. 10 that he was pulling the plug on the service.

Doing so drained more than one-third of the $9.4 million that City Council agreed to loan from city insurance reserves to pay expenses for shutting down the ferry service.

City officials still must negotiate a buyout of their three-year contract with Bay Ferries. Monday's check for $3,192,374.59 was for expenses Bay Ferries covered to date for the city-created Rochester Ferry Co. More than one-third of the total was spent on fuel for the 774-passenger ship. (Yeah, despite the arrogant American appeal of large, fuel-swilling vehicles, the Hummer of Lake Ontario really hits the wallet.  Caveat Emptor.)

Mayor Robert Duffy decided Jan. 10 to end the Rochester-Toronto service after the operation lost $10 million in 10 months. Rochester Ferry was broke and Bay Ferries had covered an estimated $2.5 million in expenses at the time of Duffy's announcement. In a Jan. 12 letter to City Council, Duffy noted that and shutdown costs were "best estimates at this time" for shutting down the service.

A follow-up memo was sent to City Council members before their Jan. 17 vote authorizing the $9.4 million internal borrowing. The memo itemized more than $650,000 in additional, outstanding debts at various payment stages, resulting in the figure of nearly $3.2 million. That adds to a restructured $40.5 million debt used to buy the ship and pay most 2005 expenses.

Ferry board member Gary Walker, who also is spokesman for Duffy, said the $9.4 million estimate was conservative. The legislation built in a $500,000 contingency. The ferry board will be receiving detailed reports on a monthly basis of expenditures drawn from reserves. The board last met Jan. 24. The next board meeting has not been set.

Well, now that the Rochester taxpayers are paying well in excess of $1 million for the fumes and emissions which are left floating around, maybe it's a good lesson in why the age of ego-boosting large vehicles is as antiquated as tin drives in World War II.  Losers -- in every sense of the word -- have nothing to show for the money they've just spent on fuel for some beast of a machine. To next page

Now go buy another Dodge Ram and whine about the cost of energy and the war in Iraq.