By Sharon Weatherall
BEAUSOLEIL FIRST NATION – A ferry purchased from Alabama by Beausoleil First Nation (BFN) in August 2013 could be delayed another year due to a hold on funding through Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. The band will be meeting with the Regional Director General – Ontario Region on July 29 to get some answers on why funds are being held back.
“The funding for the ferry of $1.1 million was approved and of that we received 90 per cent, however were advised to send in the reports for the remaining 10 per cent. Despite our ongoing emails, letter writing we failed to receive acknowledgement of our requests for the paperwork required to submit for the remaining 10 per cent,” said a frustrated Beausoleil Chief Roland Monague.
“On June 30th Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada advised us the report for the remaining 10 percent was overdue. Despite sending notification that we have not received any correspondence from AANDC, we could not submit for funding if things are being held up on their end. After more back and forth emails for several days an AANDC official said ‘here is the report please complete and send back’. That was completed in early July and to date we have not received the remaining 10 percent which was to represent funds from the previous fiscal.”
Once in place, the new ferry will be used strictly as a freight barge to take the wear and tear off the band’s existing ferry barge – 60 year old “Sandy Graham”. Currently waste from the island is being diverted in two runs daily using the Sandy Graham which is interfering with regular runs and convenience to passengers.
The new barge is identical to the Sandy Graham but 20 years younger with a new hull. Retrofitting must be done on the vessel to make it ready to sail Canadian waters. The total cost of the vessel including the retrofit is $1.8 million. Currently it is sitting in dry dock in Alabama where fees are being charged. Monague says all new work (new engines, ramps and shafting) has been ordered but everything is on hold due to Indian Affairs.
“We now wait for the remaining 10 percent and some form of commitment that the remaining funds for the retrofit is forthcoming so we can complete the work and get the vessel sailing to Canada,” said Monague.
“We had hoped to have it sail by October. It is a three-week sail from Alabama to Canada. Before the locks close in December we have to be sailing by October. A very frustrating venture despite the fact the federal government released a media release announcing the support for funding a freight barge to BFN.”
Monague says the general public is led to believe the government makes all efforts in assisting First Nations in Capital Projects when in reality the First Nations struggle and fight to receive funds required to see a project through to fruition, months to years later.
“But when a First Nation is late on reporting the First Nation is penalized by the department,” said Monague.
Monague was further annoyed with an announcement in July that the federal government has committed $58 million over the next two years to allow for the continued operation of three ferry services on Canada’s East Coast, Bay of Fundy. Since 2006 Ottawa has spent $246 million on ferries across Eastern Canada.
“They can commit $58 million to ferries on the East Coast but our Sandy Graham is in its 60th year and since 2004 we have been trying to get a new ferry at a cost of $20 million,” said Monague who is a third term chief for Beausoleil.
The Sandy Graham is due for dry dock in 2016, Monague says at a cost that will tally in the millions. The island community’s aging passenger ferry “Indian Maiden” is due for dry dock now and arrangements are being made to get it there so it will be back before the ice forms.