Cause for a causeway? Long Island residents resume push for fixed link

The MV Hazel McIsaac made its last run to Little Bay Islands on New Year's Eve. The vast majority of residents have now left the island and moved to larger, mainland towns.

Little Bay Islands has a nearby sister island, however.

The Hazel McIsaac also serves nearby Long Island, population 168 in the last census. The $30-million vessel makes the five-minute run across the tickle between Long Island and Pilley's Island several times a day.

Daniel Veilleux, president of the Long Island transportation committee, says despite the island's small population, the ferry serves an important role for residents.

"Last year, we had 44,500 passengers and 26,000 vehicles crossing," he said.

"Our vessel is fairly new, very reliable. It's seaworthy with ice in the spring, and it's very powerful. We feel safe. On another vessel, I don't know if they got the power."

Eddy Kennedy/CBC News

He and his committee plan to meet with Transportation Minister Steve Crocker to talk about assurances for ferry service.

He also wants to resurrect an old idea: retiring the ferry altogether in favour of a causeway across the 503 metre tickle.

"It would be cheaper to have a causeway, to having this ferry," he said. "This ferry costs between four to five million dollars a year to operate. A causeway would be paid off in no time."

Submitted by Daniel Veilleux

He also cites federal cost-sharing and benefits for tourism as reasons to support a causeway.

"I know a lot of people left Long Island because of the ferry. Reliability and winter," he said. "But, if we would have a causeway, this place would boom again."

'No plans' for causeway

Ryan Butt, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation, says that's not likely to happen in the near future.

"The department has no plans to build a causeway to Long Island," Butt said in a statement.

"The ferry service between Pilley's Island and Long Island will continue with the same schedule with no reduction in services. The department continues to provide a ferry service that meets the needs the residents."

He also disputes Veilleux's claim a causeway would be cheaper to build and maintain than the ferry service over the long term.

Paula Gale/CBC

"Constructing a causeway would require approximately 3,000,000 cubic metres of fill and would be approximately 77 metres deep and 242 metres wide," Butt explained.

"A project of this size could cost as much as $80 million to build and there would also be ongoing expenses for maintenance and snow clearing. The cost of constructing and maintaining the causeway would be significantly higher than the current annual operational cost of the ferry service."

Butt said Crocker and other officials plan to visit Long Island at the invitation of the council. They'll talk about the causeway, but also about the schedule the MV Hazel McIsaac will keep in the future.

No date is yet set for that meeting.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador