St George’s MPs split with Government over ferry cancellation
St George’s MPs have urged the Government to act swiftly to reinstate the cancelled public ferry service to the historic town.
In a rare act of public disunity, Renée Ming, MP for St George’s North, and Kim Swan, MP for St George’s West, said “everything must be done” to ensure work on a ferry dock was completed in short order or rescheduled.
But the Cabinet minister responsible batted back their calls, saying the work would start today and would take five weeks to complete, dramatically cutting cruise passengers’ visits to the town, which depends on tourism.
The Department of Marine & Ports Services suspended the Orange Route on August 8 because of concerns about the safe disembarkation for passengers and crew.
Last night, Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, said the Department of Works and Engineering would begin today installing the bow loading ramp at Hunter’s Wharf – the cause of concern – and said the work was expected to take five weeks to complete.
He said discussions were taking place with the Ministry of Transport to find alternative options for a ferry service.
In a joint statement, Mr Swan and Ms Ming said yesterday: “News that the St George's designated Orange ferry has been suspended due to safety concerns with the ferry dock is disappointing to the area residents and merchants.
“St George’s, like other tourist areas, is trying to recover after two years of a pandemic. This ferry service has provided a much needed boost to the St George’s community this year and the town would have benefited from this additional ferry lift for the remainder of the 2022 tourist season.
“Hopefully, the ministries of transport and public works can review the maintenance that has been planned and either reschedule the dates or prioritise the work so that it can be completed in very short order.
“We understand the need for the Government to balance and encourage economic activity with the need to ensure tourists and local ferry riders and Marine & Ports employees are safe.
“St George’s is an important tourist attraction and everything must be done to maintain its viability.”
Dennie O’Connor, an award-winning St George’s entrepreneur, said the move to cancel the ferry at the height of the tourism season was a blow to all of the businesses striving to rebound following the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He added: “It is disheartening to see that we once again, St George’s, will get the short end of the stick. I did the math and the reality of it is, five to seven strong days during the summer [with this ferry] is equivalent to 21 to 27 days during the winter for my small businesses. No public ferry for St George’s during the peak of summer is a massive economic loss for our businesses.
"What thought/planning went into this decision to suspend the ferry and continue to cripple businesses who have already suffered enough, “ he added.
“Safety first ‘’yes” but how is it that the private ferry is still operational, can they not share? We need answers, but more importantly, we need solutions. I’m getting tired of the voices of St George’s business owners cries falling on deaf ears.
“Something like this would never happen in Hamilton or Dockyard, so why is it OK for it to happen in St George’s? Find a solution.
"I’m all for improvement in our town. But it cannot come at the cost of hurting our businesses during what should be the height of our season."
Colonel Burch provided a history of the dock project at Hunter’s Wharf and said last night: “While ideally, the work should have been carried out during the off-season, the situation is such that the health and safety of passengers – especially those bound by wheelchairs – are at risk. The work will commence tomorrow and is expected to be completed within five weeks.
“In the meantime, we have been exploring other options to provide ferry service. Those discussions with the Ministry of Transport are ongoing, but I wish to assure the people of St George's that we are working diligently to restore service as soon as possible.”
8/27/21 – The initial application was submitted with a proposal to repair/remove and replace existing rusted bollards, install a handrail adjacent to the existing concrete ramp, install a fixed metal gangway with a winch system and install two timber fender panels with concrete fender supports on the side of the dock.
12/3/2021 – Planning Application Objection received – Dowling Marine and Auto Service Ltd object to the placement of the two timber fenders. The current arrangement of these fenders will impede the passageway on the entrance and exit to Dowling's.
1/21/2022 – Planning Application Representation – Letter of concern regarding impact from the thrust of ferry and lack of consultation from the St George's Preservation Authority.
6/17/22 – Director of Planning advised: “I spoke with my team late yesterday and it was confirmed the sole objection to the planning application was withdrawn, and as such, I can now give approval as a matter of urgency given the circumstances.”
1/7/2022 – Final Planning Application approved. Proposal to repair/remove and replace existing rusted bollards, install three foot high handrail adjacent to existing concrete ramp, install fixed metal gangway winch system and install two timber fender panels with concrete fender supports on the side of the dock.
4/7/2022 – A waiver to the fire permit was applied for and, once that was granted, we were able to apply for a building permit.
We ran the tender process concurrently with the planning process, and we received bids back on July 15.
We requested a few additional documents from the contractor, and once received, we completed the evaluation and had a "preferred bidder". But without the building permit, we chose to wait before signing the contract.
The building permit was granted on August 11.
15/8/2022 – We got the signed contract back from the contractor on.
Work will commence on 17 August.