Proposed Big Tancook ferry too big for island's needs, says part-time resident

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When Prince Edward Island's Tess Miller needs a break, she heads to an even smaller island off Nova Scotia's south shore — Big Tancook Island.

Although the ferry that makes four crossings a day only has room for one vehicle, and loading is only possible at high tide, Miller is drawn to the Island's slow pace and the hospitality of the tiny community.

"It's a very near-and-dear place to our hearts, for all our family members," Miller said from her P.E.I. home.

But she is worried the place where kids are free to wander and bike the dirt roads worry-free will change if the Nova Scotia government replaces the aging William G. Ernst with a new 18-car ferry.

11 crossings per day in 2022

The new service, expected to start in the spring of 2022, will expand the number of crossings to 11 a day.

"If you've got 18 cars coming off the ferry, then another 18 cars, it is going to totally change that way of life," said Miller.

Miller has owned a home on Big Tancook Island since 2004. She spends three to four months a year there.

She lived there year-round when she was doing graduate work. Roughly half the Island's 200 residents are seasonal.

She understands the need for a new ferry to replace an aging and increasingly unreliable ferry, but she's not sold on what the province is planning to build.

Residents divided

"We should be looking at what the island needs and we don't need an 18-car ferry," she said.

The proposed ferry has split the island's 100 permanent residents down the middle, according to several people contacted by CBC News.

They declined interview requests because they didn't want to upset neighbours, who, like Miller, are worried the island's way of life will change with the new service.

Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines, the cabinet minister responsible for ferries, disputes Miller's claim that a larger ferry isn't what the island needs.

"Design is a function of what the anticipated traffic would be and there's an expectation that it will be a fairly busy route, certainly opening up a nice, new area of the province," Hines said Thursday.

"It's a match for the kind of traffic that we would be expecting, that we would have there."

Some happy with the news

Some island fishermen are happy with news of a new, larger ferry that will allow delivery trucks on the island. That will make getting fuel, bait and other supplies easier.

Miller is fine with a bigger vessel but thinks the one planned is too big.

"I'm not saying that we don't want a car ferry but certainly a smaller ferry that would service the needs of islanders, particularly our fishermen and our seniors with mobility issues, that's what we need," she said.

"Eighteen cars is way too big!"

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