Frontenac County council supports call to reinstate 2-ferry plan for Wolfe Island

 The Wolfe Islander III has been travelling between Kingston and the island since 1976.  (Dan Taekema/CBC - image credit)
The Wolfe Islander III has been travelling between Kingston and the island since 1976. (Dan Taekema/CBC - image credit)

Frontenac County council is supporting a push by residents of Wolfe Island to clarify with the province whether the community will be served by two ferries — as originally planned — or just one.

The long-awaited Wolfe Islander IV was expected to join its predecessor, which has recently been plagued by reliability issues, sometime this spring.

Frontenac Islands Mayor Judy Greenwood-Speers said Ontario's Ministry of Transportation (MTO) initially told islanders both ferries would be running, but then she and a fellow councillor were informed that's no longer the case.

At first, there was an outright denial from an MTO representative that was ever the plan, the mayor told county council during its meeting Wednesday.

That was later amended to a statement there would be a one-ferry system for the "foreseeable future" due to staffing.

"The province has to stick to what they agreed to and the plans that were made around [it] even if it was a Liberal government at the time," said Greenwood-Speers.

"There's a lot that has to be solidified with this new minister to ensure our community isn't crushed."

Council ultimately voted in favour of backing up the township as it asks the ministry to reconsider the change and for clarity around the decision, along with consultation about the impacts and possible mitigation.

Township asks province to reconsider

Greenwood-Speers's motion noted former transportation minister Stephen Del Duca said the current ferry would be operating in tandem with the new one, effectively "doubling" the transportation capacity to the island.

It states the redesign of Kingston's ferry terminal includes far less parking because of that increased capacity and an assumption there would be less need for walk-on parking.

Dan Taekema/CBC
Dan Taekema/CBC

The motion says the impact of that change is "far reaching" and asked council to request Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney immediately reconsider and reinstate the two-ferry plan.

If two-ferry service is delayed or not possible, the ministry should consult with the community about that decision and mitigation strategies for parking and emergency services, it adds.

The MTO did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Councillor says region may seem 'ungrateful'

North Frontenac Township Mayor Gary Lichty said he understands where Wolfe Islanders are coming from, but pushed back against the call for both boats.

"Why would you want a 45- or 50-year-old ferry that, when you read the internet, it's full of complaints," he said.

The aging Wolfe Islander III has dealt with reliability issues and safety concerns in recent months.

A Twitter account that shares service disruptions shows at least eight already this year, half of which were due to mechanical issues.

The most recent occurred this past weekend, when MTO said the engine had to be changed unexpectedly, knocking it out of service for most of the day.

Lichty pointed out the province is spending millions of dollars on the new ferry and docks.

"If I was in Toronto and got this, I would look at it as the County of Frontenac being very ungrateful," he said of the motion.

Greenwood-Speers said her community made plans based on the understanding both ferries would be operating, including for potential new development in Marysville, Wolfe Island's largest community.

County CAO Kelly Pender recalled attending a 2017 meeting in Kingston where the MTO promised two ferries in exchange for saving millions of dollars by not extending the docks for more parking.

"The City of Kingston made decisions, the County of Frontenac made decisions, Frontenac Islands made decisions, all based upon that fact that the ministry backtracked on two years ago without telling anybody," he said.