Sombra ferry owners taking Ottawa to court over ice-damaged causeway

The ice-damaged causeway to the Sombra Ferry dock. Glenn Ogilvie file photo

Pam Wright

The owners of the Bluewater Ferry in Sombra are suing the federal government over a broken causeway that has grounded the ferry service between Ontario and Michigan.

“It’s the final resort,” said company co-owner Morgan Dalgety. “We’ve waited five months and we’ve lost five months. If we can’t get help, it’s going to bankruptcy.”

In early January, ice floes took out the causeway that connects the ferry dock to the Canadian shore.

According to Dalgety, a global navigational tool called the Automatic Identification System offers proof the Canadian Coast Guard is to blame for the damage.

He said records show the icebreaker Samuel J. Risley was travelling at 14 knots as it helped move ships through dense ice in the St. Clair River, he said.

The speed limit there is 10 knots, Dalgety said, adding the displaced ice ripped out the causeway.

“It had to go somewhere,” he said.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, of which the Coast Guard is part, said she couldn’t comment on the matter because it is now before the courts.

The Coast Guard issued a statement in January saying gale-force winds from the north flushed a large amount of ice from Lake Huron into the river the week of Jan. 8, and that “many vessels” were on the water at the time the causeway was damaged.

Dalgety said there is video evidence the wind was out of the south at the time.

The Bluewater Ferry that connects Sombra to Marine City, Michigan is busy. During peak times, two boats make an estimated 60 trips a day across the St. Clair River.

It’s a big loss for the fifth generation family business.

“We’re living on savings,” Dalgety said.

A Go Fund Me page was launched on the family’s behalf and various fundraisers have been held.

Dalgety said the family has mortgaged property to finance repairs.

The cost of rebuilding the causeway has risen from earlier estimates to nearly $3 million, Dalgety said.

“The whole causeway has to be ripped out,” he explained, adding it must be rebuilt higher above the water

That means the man-made island that houses the dock and Canadian Border Services building must also be built up.

A partial demolition and the installation of a ‘bailey bridge’ — a type of floating bridge used in Second World War — were also proven unfeasible.

Six government ministries and two First Nation communities having a say in the construction complicates the process, he added.

He can’t understand why the federal government won’t help, adding Sarnia-Lambton’s MP and St. Clair Township’s mayor pushed for funding.

“Doors kept getting slammed in Marilyn and Steve’s face,” Dalgety said.

“The Canadian government is giving out money around the world…they should be helping southwestern Ontario.”