OTTAWA—Tehkummah Township council is calling on the federal government to ensure the channel at South Baymouth is dredged for safe passage of the Chi-Cheemaun ferry due to low water levels, citing in a motion the Chi-Cheemaun ferry operating is something that is required to ensure the continued economic viability of Manitoulin.
Gary Brown, reeve of Tehkummah, said he discussed the issue with Susan Schrempf of the Owen Sound Transportation Company (OSTC) recently, “If the water levels continue to go down, the channel will have to be dredged. This is something that definitely needs to be looked at now.”
Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes says the government needs to step up their game and do something about the water levels in Lake Huron, which are the lowest ever recorded for the lake. She led a concentrated effort in parliament last week that she hopes will lead to action.
On February 6, Ms. Hughes marshaled a group of New Democrats, including Northern Ontario MPs Claude Gravelle and Glenn Thibeault, as well as the party’s transportation critic, Olivia Chow, to bring the issue some prominence as they tabled petitions with more than 3,000 signatures gathered on Manitoulin Island. She followed that up with a statement on the issue last Friday.
Ms. Hughes says the low water has economic and environmental impacts that can no longer go unaddressed.
“Wetlands are endangered, docks and boat ramps are high and dry, exposed water lines are freezing, and the harbour at South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island will have to be dredged so the Chi-Cheemaum Ferry can reach the dock,” said Ms. Hughes. “Property values are affected and now freighters on the Great Lakes are running light so they don’t bottom out.”
The MP is calling for action on a century-old work order to create compensating structures that will reduce Lake Huron’s flow into the St. Clair River as one part of a solution that could be addressed quickly.
“The International Joint Commission has adopted a wait and see stance that isn’t sitting well with the communities, businesses, and individuals affected,” said Ms. Hughes. “They want action and are pointing to the derelict work order for compensating structures in the St. Clair River as a good place to start.”
While the low water level is a story that seems to be picking up momentum, Ms. Hughes is concerned that the government remains silent on the issue. “With water levels down in all the Great Lakes, it’s time to protect these Canadian crown jewels and reverse the mounting environmental and economic crisis.”
The Tehkummah motion calling for immediate action from the federal government in dredging of the South Baymouth channel has been directed to the federal government, specifically Keith Ashfield, minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and MP Hughes, as well as the OSTC, (along with a request for support on the motion from all Manitoulin Island municipalities) “is a motion that has been looked at by council on an ongoing basis. The dredging needs to be looked at for the channel and the harbour.” He noted, “one tugboat, I understand, is sitting on the bottom of the harbour.”
“You can see ground at the corner of our harbour where there used to be about seven feet of water,” said Mr. Brown. “We are going to have to find funding and get the permits necessary to dredge.”
“If the ferry couldn’t run it would affect tourism for all of Manitoulin,” said Mr. Brown. “If the levels continue to go down, there will definitely be a problem. We are putting pressure on the government and are asking for the support of other Island municipalities on our motion for the government to provide the support and help that is needed.”