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Million dollar Merv

Fort Providence ferry tab checks in at over $1 million

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Jan 17/01) - Like lunches, there's no such thing as a free ride on the MV Merv Hardie.

The territorial government spends more than $1 million annually to ferry cars, trucks, goods, people and animals across the Mackenzie River at Fort Providence.

Operating an average of 250 days per year, the MV Merv Hardie consumes just over a fifth of the estimated $4.9 million the government will spend on ferry service this year.

Fort Providence is one of five crossings where ferry service is provided. The 1,200 metre span between the shores of the Mackenzie River at Fort Providence is by far the busiest crossing, linking the territorial capital and Rae-Edzo with the south.

The government operates the ferry on a five-year negotiated (meaning there is no competition for the job) contract with Digga Enterprises, a joint venture of the Fort Providence Dene Band and the Snowshoe Inn.

The contract is paid on a day-to-day basis and this year is worth $670,000 based on an anticipated 250-day season, reported Masood Hassan, territorial director of transportation planning.

The contract with Digga runs to the 2002-03 year and covers the salaries of three crews, each comprised of a captain, engineer and deck hand. The crews work shifts of six weeks on and two weeks off. With the exception of the engineers they are staffed locally.

The contract does not include the estimated $140,000 cost of fuel for the season.

Prior to the formation of Digga Enterprises, three-year contracts were tendered for the operation of the ferry. The Snowshoe Inn, a private company owned by the Philipp family of Fort Providence, regularly won the contract. Digga Enterprises was formed when the Fort Providence Band expressed interest in taking over the operation of the ferry.

Stan Dean and Sons Ltd. of Hay River won a $60,000 tendered contract this year for hydraulic hoe services used to keep the channel free of ice. The Snowshoe Inn was awarded a sole-sourced (again, non-competitive) contract for supply of loader services this year, also used to keep the channel free of ice.

The government spends another $125,000 per year for minor maintenance, Hassan said.

"The ship is in excellent shape," Hassan said. "The hull has a very long life because we do not operate in a salt-water environment, and it is a cold environment, so rust isn't a problem."

He estimated the hull will last another 50-80 years and that it will be another 20 years before the ship will need a major overhaul such as replacing engines or steering mechanisms.