[NORTH SYDNEY, NS] — The federal government is investing $521 million over the next five years to renew Marine Atlantic's fleet and improve shore facilities at the ports of North Sydney, and Port aux Basques and Argentia in Newfoundland.
North Sydney will get a new terminal building, upgrades to the dock area and new terminal equipment.
The design work is underway for the North Sydney site. Although it hasn't been decided, the area being looked at for the terminal is next to Commercial Street, which would provide access to the downtown.
The terminals and the dock facilities in Port aux Basques and Argentia will receive upgrades and new terminal equipment.
Most of the shore facility structures were built in the 1970s or early 1980s and require upgrades to continue to operate safely and efficiently.
In making the announcement in North Sydney Monday, Minister of State for Transport Rob Merrifield described the ferry service as a vital link between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.
"Quality and reliability of service is important to this area," he said. "When we were out last fall and talked to the shippers and the users, they told us we had two problems with Marine Atlantic - lack of capacity and lack of reliability. We are addressing both of those."
When added to the funds announced since 2007, the $521 million brings the total incremental government funding to the ferry service to almost $1 billion.
As part of this funding the government dedicated $12.5 million for shore-based priority projects under the Infrastructure Stimulus Fund in 2009.
In May, the federal government announced two new vessels to replace the aging MV Caribou and MV Joseph and Clara Smallwood. The MV Leif Ericson will undergo an extensive $18-million refit over the next year.
"This commitment provides us with the ability to plan a multi-year investment strategy that will result in the renewal of our fleet, terminal and other shore facilities thereby improving the quality and reliability of our service," said Rob Crosbie, chairman of the Marine Atlantic board of directors.
Sydney-Victoria MP Mark Eyking said the investment was necessary to satisfy the concerns about Marine Atlantic laid out in Auditor General Sheila Fraser's report released in November 2009, which highlighted the need for investment in the problem-plagued Crown corporation.
"It's a good day for Cape Breton," Eyking said. "This much-needed infrastructure will hopefully improve service and boost tourism."
Eyking said any new terminal and investment in the site requires safe, accessible access to downtown North Sydney.
"The current situation is not acceptable," said Eyking. "Hopefully this new capital will provide a more workable solution. I strongly urge Marine Atlantic to incorporate access to the town into any new terminal design, along with a pedway."
Cape Breton North MLA Cecil Clarke said having a new terminal facility constructed as part of the downtown core will allow tourists access to local businesses.
"When you have a five-year window of almost a billion dollars being invested in the transport infrastructure, but also the physical and, more importantly, the human infrastructure, this is the type of clarity we've been looking for and the types of infrastructure supports that are necessary to have a solid future. Not only for North Sydney, but for Newfoundland and Labrador."
He said the construction should mean a large number of jobs over the next few years.
"With over $900 million confirmed for five years for fleet upgrades, shore facility improvements and information technology infrastructure, I think we can look to the future with confidence."