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Ice-damaged Sombra ferry causeway leads to finger-pointing

Journal Staff Sarnia-Lambton’s MP says Ottawa should be able to find $2.5 million to fix the Sombra ferry border crossing.
Damage estimated in the millions was caused by ice crashing into the Sombra ferry causeway. Pam Wright

Journal Staff

Sarnia-Lambton’s MP says Ottawa should be able to find $2.5 million to fix the Sombra ferry border crossing.

“If the government can spend $6 million to build an ice rink on Parliament Hill that lasts only four months, they should be able to find the money to fix the ferry,” Marilyn Gladu said.

“We’re giving the government every opportunity to do the right thing.”

The causeway to the Sombra ferry dock was heavily damaged by massive ice floes earlier this month.

Bluewater Ferry owner Morgan Dalgety said Canadian and U.S. icebreakers moving ships through the St. Clair River shipping channel were the cause of the damaging ice.

But the Coast Guard hasn’t accepted responsibility, three federal ministries have declined the funding request from Gladu, and the issue has turned into a blame game.

The funding request was taken to the Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi after being rejected by the ministries of transport, fisheries and oceans and public safety, Gladu said.

And the clock is ticking. If a solution isn’t found soon a replacement causeway can’t be built until at least July, after the fish-spawning season has ended.

“If the government doesn’t get on this immediately we’ll miss the opportunity to get the ferry back up and running as soon as possible,” the MP said.

There’s also a risk the ferry service between Ontario and Michigan could close permanently, warned Gladu, who called it an emergency.

The Dalgety family, the owners Bluewater Ferry, took ownership of the causeway from the federal government in the 1990s.

The Canadian Coast Guard issued a statement last week saying gale-force winds from the north flushed a large amount of ice from Lake Huron into the river the week of Jan. 8, and that “many vessels” were on the water at the time the causeway was damaged.

Among them was a U.S. Coast Guard ice cutter and the Canadian icebreaker Samuel Risley, which was escorting four U.S. vessels in the river.

“Icebreaking service from the Canadian and United States coast guards is helping ships moving safely and efficiently through the ice on one of the busiest trans-border shipping lanes in North America, the St. Clair River,” the statement said.

Gladu said the money to repair the Sombra border crossing is insignificant compared to the billions Ottawa is spending on the new Gordie Howe Bridge at the Windsor-Detroit border crossing.

She added the proposed fix — which includes engineering culverts using arbour stone— would allow ice to move through or over top of the causeway without inflicting damage.

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