12 July 2010

The ferry tale of New Ferrole

Not exactly destined to be a Christmas classic but a tale that is nonetheless as misshapen as the dental work of any Pogue’s front man.

The Telegram reported on Saturday that the provincial government’s ferry building program is behind schedule with more delays expected. One new ship is expected later this year with another to follow next year.  More will come along after that.

Transportation minister Tom Hedderson didn’t have any explanations to offer for the delay:

"It's a catch-up game, and we understand that," Hedderson said in an interview.

"But the significant dollars that we've put in are making significant differences. We plan - and not always can we stick to the timeline - but we have made the commitment, and the money. It is going as fast as (it) can, given the circumstances."

He never said what the circumstances were just that they were there. Hedderson was, however, fulsome in his self-praise:

"Obviously, very simply, we've taken the bull by the horns," Hedderson said.

"It's not an easy task, especially when the shipbuilding industry had not been developed over the years as well."

These sorts of delays are now par for the course in the Williams administration.  capital works projects and legislation routinely take years from the date they are announced. Cost over-runs mount at the same time for many of the capital projects.

The Telegram doesn’t really give a full accounting of the delays in the ferry work.  Nonetheless, it is worthwhile to take a look at just exactly how long this construction work has been in the works.  After all, Hedderson told the Telegram the vessel replacements might not be finished for another decade.

September 30, 2005: transportation and works minister Tom Rideout said that government was thoroughly examining options for building vessels in this province. Minister Rideout said, “My department is analyzing opportunities to build vessels in this province in terms of net economic benefits to the province, including job creation and economic development.”

February 16, 2007:   Transportation and works minister John Hickey,  said "Our plan to build these two new ferries is the first stage of our Vessel Replacement Strategy," At the time, Government anticipates the total cost of the two ferries will be approximately $25 million 

November 15, 2007:  The provincial government announced that Clarenville and Marystown Shipyards were to bid on ferry construction. Transportation and works minister Diane Whelan said that Clarenville Drydock Limited and Peter Kiewit and Sons of Marystown had been invited to submit bids on construction of two new provincial ferry vessels. 

June 10, 2008:  The provincial government awarded a $50.5 million contract to for the ferries.  Peter Kiewit got the contract with a guarantee that 25% of the sub-contract work would go to Clarenville.  The release refers to design work for a possible fourth ferry of the same size in addition to the three contemplated.

The Southern Gazette reported that work on the ferries was expected to begin immediately, with the first ferry due to be delivered by the end of next year (2009) and the second in the spring of 2010, notwithstanding any unforeseen delays.

December 17, 2008: Transportation and works minister Trevor Taylor told the House of Assembly:

Mr. Speaker, the member is correct, we did make an announcement back earlier this year on construction of two new ferries in – basically led in Marystown but part in Clarenville.

Mr. Speaker, discussions with Peter Kiewit and Sons have been proceeding. As the member may know, the construction of these two ferries is basically a design-build approach, where approximately 70 per cent of design has been done. The testing on the hull and what have you was done at the Centre for Ocean Dynamics, or the Centre for Marine Dynamics over at back of MUN.

Basically, where we are right now – actually, just earlier this morning there was a meeting between officials of the department and representatives from the Marystown Dockyard. Mr. Speaker, it is moving along. I hope that in the very near future we will be able to begin construction. There are some relatively minor, I would hope, matters around the design of the vessel and the performance of the vessel that Peter Kiewit and Sons have to commit to. When we sign off on the vessel, we want them to guarantee us that the ship is going to float and that the ship is going to perform and have the appropriate sea keeping as was required and that is what we are –

I can tell the member and the House that the propulsion systems for both ships have already been bought. They are here in a warehouse in St. John’s right now. As for cost overruns, Mr. Speaker, given the current state of the world economy and the declining demand for steel and cooper and everything else that you would be required to put into a ship, we would not expect any cost overruns. If anything, Mr. Speaker, our indication to Peter Kiewit & Sons is that we would probably see a decline in some of this stuff.

February 26, 2009: The Packet reported the Clarenville shipyard had pulled out of the ferry construction project for unexplained reasons.

June 10, 2010:  With two ferries delayed, the third not begun and fourth in the design stages, the provincial government announces calls for expressions of interest in designing six new ferries.  Note that, as part of the Summer of Love 2007 election campaign, the Williams administration made a large number of capital works announcements that didn’t happen for two to three years.

- srbp -