Southern St. Clair County residents and tourists traveling to Canada may have to go the long way around - through Port Huron and over the Blue Water Bridge
- to get to Ontario and back.
The Bluewater International Ferry, which is located just east of state highway M-29, provides the fastest, most convenient rout to Canada, but, due to high marine service fees, ferry management is threatening to close for the winter.
The Canadian-owned Bluewater Ferry
docks in Sombra, Ontario, and Marine City.
Ferry manager Capt. Morgan Dalgety said exorbitant ice-breaking charges from the Canadian Coast Guard's Oceans and Fisheries Division are putting a financial squeeze on the company.
Ice-cutters routinely escort freighters through ice-jammed waters, he said, yet they won't clear a path from Sombra to Marine City for the ferry.
Currently, he is in litigation with the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa for refusing to pay $168,000 in ice-breaking fees for the past three years. The ferry company is claiming financial hardship.
Marine City Commissioner Tony Wren owns the duty-free store at the city's ferry dock. He and many other local Marine City businesses will be greatly impacted if the ferry does not keep running in the winter, he said.
Jaime Caceres, manager of the Canadian Coast Guard's Central
-Artic Marine Division, agreed the fees are expensive and said the Coast Guard is working to come to try to settle the situation.
Each time the Canadian Coast Guard goes out, shipping companies and other commercial operations along the waterway are charged $3,100, he said. In defense of the fees, Caceres said ice-breaking rates for marine businesses operating in the Great Lakes region are only about 10 percent of coast guard costs.
Caceres agreed that the CCG's efforts to help one region sometimes makes it worse for another.
The Coast Guard reportedly monitors conditions using radar satellite photography, long before the river plugs up. The equipment checks water and air conditions 24 hours a day and provides the latest marine forecast. The information is available to all shippers and carriers doing business or traveling the waterways - all part of the marine service fee.
The forecasting service is also available at no extra charge to the Bluewater Ferry to help them prepare for crises or holdups due to the weather. [Source: http://www.voicenews.com]