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Candidates agree to fight ferry fees; Wind turbines also identified as key issue

Amherst Island residents fed up with high ferry fares were given promises of better days ahead at the first candidates debate in the region for October’s provincial vote.

All four candidates for Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington, which includes Amherst Island, told a crowd of about 100 islanders at Amherst Island Public School they would work to abolish the $8 ferry fare if elected to represent the new riding.

“Finally, here’s an issue we can all agree on,” said Rolly Montpellier, the local Green party candidate.

Fares for the Amherst Island ferry, which is the only line of transportation between the 67-sq.-km. island and the mainland, have been steadily increasing.

This year, fares jumped to $8 a trip [the fare is only applied on the trip to the island] from $6. Fares account for roughly 10 per cent of the cost to operate the ferry.

The province gave Loyalist Township roughly $1.8 million last year. The township says it cost more than $2 million to operate the ferry – a flat-bottom boat that can carry 33 cars and makes the 20-minute trip from the mainland at the village of Millhaven to the island between 6:30 a.
m. and 1:30 a.m. each day

All the candidates said the ferry should run similar to how the Wolfe Island ferry is operated. That ferry is free of charge.

“We don’t have tolls on highways to communities in the region, why should we be paying [for the ferry] at all?” asked New Democratic candidate Ross Sutherland.

Progressive Conservative candidate Randy Hillier proposed the creation of a locally operated port authority that would handle not only the Amherst Island ferry but the ferries for Wolfe and Howe islands.

Hillier, who called the ferry an “economic bottleneck,” also said he would work to replace the ferry with a front-loading vessel that would make transporting cars and larger goods easier.

Liberal Ian Wilson told the crowd, which accounted for about a quarter of the entire island’s population, that Transportation Minister Donna Cansfield has assured him her office is exploring a solution to the ferry fee issue.

“What that means, I’m not quite sure yet,” Wilson said.

Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington is a new provincial riding with no incumbent MPP. It was created as part of a redistribution in southern Ontario to match provincial ridings with their federal counterparts.

It is being formed mostly from the Hastings-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington riding currently represented by Agriculture Minister Leona Dombrowsky, a Liberal.

But the rest of the new riding, which will come from the current riding of Lanark-Carleton, is represented by a Tory, and a longtime one at that.

Norm Sterling was first elected to Queen’s Park as a Tory in 1977 and hasn’t lost an election since.

Wilson found himself on the defensive on the issue of wind turbines at several points during the evening.

The Liberals have made it clear wind energy is part of their renewable energy plan, but a proposal from a Calgary-based company to build a wind-turbine plant on Amherst Island has drawn the ire of several islanders, who view such a development as detrimental to their natural environment.

Peter Large, an island resident and member of a coalition group formed to oppose the development, repeatedly asked Wilson to state specifically if he’d support killing the project if it could be demonstrated a majority of islanders didn’t want it.

Wilson said he didn’t feel comfortable answering the question, which prompted someone from the crowd to blurt out, “You’re not getting my vote.”

Montpellier tried to ease fears over the Green party’s stated support for wind power.

“To have windmills as part of an overall energy plan doesn’t mean ramming them down people’s throats,” he said.

Sutherland vowed the NDP would exercise every available environmental assessment before proceeding with such a project.

Brock Harrison

The Kingston Whig-Standard

5 September 2007