The Bluewater Ferry at Sombra could be carrying passengers across the St. Clair River in as little as 10 weeks, if its owners can navigate through the murky waters of government red tape.
Morgan Dalgety, co-owner of the 70-year-old family business, said plans being drawn up by WorleyParsons to repair the ice-damaged causeway are nearly complete. When ready, they must be submitted for approval to at least seven different agencies.
“It will take 10 weeks if everything goes well,” Dalgety said.
The Dalgety family has opted to forge ahead with the repairs on their own, after repeated requests for emergency government funding to reopen the border crossing fell on deaf ears.
The family is borrowing up to $1.5 million for the reconstruction, including about $800,000 for a “Bailey Bridge and other money demolition, a centre pier and ice protection.
The $1.5 million is a “guesstimate” Dalgety said, adding he’s hopes to keep the costs as low as possible.
The family has not yet secured all of the money but is confidant it will happen, he said.
He’s less optimistic about Ottawa helping out.
“I’m still hoping the federal government will come to their senses. But I’m not holding my breath,” he said.
The Sombra-to-Marine City, Michigan ferry crossing generates at least $3.5 million in duties and taxes for federal coffers each year, Dalgety noted.
Four federal ministries including Transport Canada and the Prime Minister’s Office turned down pleas for emergency funding.
The Dalgety family and other marine experts believe the wharf was damaged when a Canadian icebreaker escorting commercial freighters through the river channel released ice floes that pummeled the causeway and other docks in the area.
The Canadian Coast Guard issued a statement on Jan. 20 stating the icebreakers didn’t go near the Sombra dock and the causeway damage was likely caused by strong north winds forcing the ice downriver.
A Minister of Fisheries and Oceans official reiterated that position when he met with Sarnia-Lambton MP Marilyn Glade and St. Clair Township mayor Steve Arnold.
There was concern earlier that the March 15 to July 15 fish-spawning season could delay construction, but using a “Bailey bridge” will get around that problem, Dalgety said.
A Bailey bridge is a portable, prefabricated truss bridge first used by the Allies during the Second World War.
Also planned is heavy-duty ice protection from a breakwall island anchored deeply into the riverbed.
“We want to make sure this never happens again,” he said.
A GoFundMe page started by Sarnia’s Helen Cole has raised about $9,000 to date to put toward the ferry startup.
And fundraising decals that depict the Canadian and U.S. flags are being sold at businesses on both sides of the border. A recent Facebook post showed a ‘Support the Bluewater Ferry’ decal adorning a streetlight in Amsterdam, Netherlands.