STRAIT OF BELLE ISLE, NL. – Local tunnel advocate Nath Moores feels there is little new information in the government’s new report on a fixed link across the Strait of Belle Isle.
Moores, a former mayor of L’Anse-au-Clair in the Labrador Straits, is annoyed because the new report is essentially the same as the pre-feasibility study conducted in 2004 by Hatch Mott MacDonald, he said.
“They spent $266,000 to say exactly what they’ve been told on the previous study,” he told the Northern Pen.
“I’m totally frustrated with it because it doesn’t say anything.”
The new study, presented by the provincial government on April 11, was conducted by Hatch and the Harris Centre.
Hatch is one of two separate firms to have since split from Hatch Mott MacDonald.
It says the cost of a fixed link tunnel across the Strait of Belle Isle would be approximately $1.65 billion, up from $1.4 billion in the 2004 study.
Moores has been a member of Neighbours Without Borders, an organization that represents municipalities along the Quebec lower north shore, southern Labrador and the Great Northern Peninsula.
He said the group has also been telling the province “for 20 years” that a tunnel is a viable transportation option.
Moores is also skeptical it would take 15 years to complete the tunnel, as the study indicates.
“I don’t know how long it takes for one of those burrowing machines to do a kilometre, but it seems what they’re saying there is that they can do about a kilometre a year,” he said. “Fifteen years to do 16 kilometres of tunneling.”
He feels more can be done in that amount of time.
Moreover, he questions why a $23-million full feasibility study is recommended if a pre-feasibility study indicates a tunnel is possible.
“If it’s feasible, then do a request for proposal and get the experts to tell them what to do, what the cost is going to be and how long it’s going to take to build,” he said.
The executive summary for the pre-feasibility study indicates “further geotechnical/geophysical investigations along the proposed alignment, including borehole investigations within the Strait” are required in the full feasibility study.
Moores believes it’s a delay tactic and that the governing Liberal Party will wait to commit to another study when the 2019 provincial election campaign begins.
However long it takes to complete a tunnel, he also stresses that an upgraded ferry service will be needed in the intervening years.
The current ferry, the MV Apollo, was built in 1970 and doesn’t have icebreaking capabilities.
It is often delayed in the winter, when ice fills the Strait of Belle Isle.
“The Apollo is not going to cut it for another 20 years,” said Moores.
For Moores, the biggest positive to come out of the report was the Newfoundland and Labrador government’s expression of willingness to partner with Quebec on completing the transportation route.
MHAs comment on study
The study assumes the proposed link would cross the Strait of Belle Isle from Point Amour in the Labrador Straits to Yankee Point on the Great Northern Peninsula.
The Northern Pen spoke with the local MHAs on both sides of the Strait of Belle Isle.
Cartwright-L’Anse-au-Clair MHA Lisa Dempster believes the new study was necessary, as “many things have changed” since the Hatch Mott MacDonald study was released in 2004.
“We really couldn’t go forward based on that information,” she said.
For instance, she says seismic work was conducted between 2009 and 2012 and that was incorporated into the new report.
Dempster also feels there are still a number of things they cannot know without a full-feasibility study.
She says the pre-feasibility study is a “noteworthy first step” in advancing a fixed link but more research needs to be done.
“We were cautioned that the outcomes (in the pre-feasibility study) should be viewed as potential outcomes, rather than actual (outcomes),” she said.
Dempster notes that the pre-feasibility study did not include a full economic impact analysis.
She also explains the tunnel would take about a decade to construct and it would take about five years to conduct the full feasibility study.
Whether the tunnel is ever started, she says a reliable ferry service will be needed in the interim, echoing Moores’ sentiments.
“Right now, the top priority for me is to keep the ferry file front and centre with the transportation minister and the premier,” she said. “We need a reliable ferry service, our numbers of people travelling is up.”
Furthermore, both Dempster and St. Barbe-L’Anse aux Meadows MHA Christopher Mitchelmore say more upgrades to existing highways within the province are required as well.
Both MHAs stress it would require support from the federal government, Quebec and the private sector to complete the fixed link as well as route 138 along the Quebec lower north shore.
Dempster says it would be needed for the full feasibility to be completed as well.
As minister of tourism, culture, industry and innovation, Mitchelmore sees an opportunity to increase tourism in the province. But the completion of route 138 would be pivotal.
Without the completion of that route, travellers to and from the mainland would still have to pass through central and western Labrador or take the ferry between Nova Scotia and Port aux Basques.
Linking the province by route 138 and the tunnel would provide a shorter route for travellers.
Mitchelmore sees the potential for a “great circle route” through the province, with travel moving through route 138, across the Strait of Belle Isle, and then out of Newfoundland via Port aux Basques or the port of Argentia.
He feels more steps need to be taken to determine the full economic benefits but believes completing the link would have the potential to transform the local economy.
“There needs to be more steps taken to look at, before we can determine the full extent of what benefits there would be more for the region,” said Mitchelmore. “Should a fixed link advance, I truly believe it would transform the economy of the Northern Peninsula and southern Labrador.”