• James Armstrong

Oka/Hudson Ferry faces dredging issues and parking problems


PHOTO BY JAMES ARMSTRONG

The Oka Hudson Ferry provides a seasonal link between two high volume highways as regional traffic continues to expand.

Keeping a privately owned ferry business afloat means dealing with a constantly changing Ottawa River and is part of the job for owner Claude Desjardins. To keep the two ferryboats that carry vehicles between Hudson and Oka operational means making certain they are able to safely dock, load, and unload at either destination. That requires keeping a channel clear on both shores. But the current culprit clogging the channel is silt, sediment and other waterborne materials that build up on the river bottom over time, according to Desjardins.

“The sediment comes naturally from local creeks and streams,” he said. If the sediments are not removed in critical areas leading up to the base of the docking platform, the ferry won’t be able to dock.

Dredging when needed

The most recent dredging of the channel took place in 2005.

“That process took two years beginning in 2003,” said Desjardins. It involved the Quebec Ministry of Transport and the Quebec Ministry of the Environment, he recounted. It also included a public consultation. The actual dredging took place in 2005.

“At the time, it was proposed the process would need to happen on a smaller scale every 10 years,” said Desjardins. As recently as 2015, a small amount of emergency dredging on the Oka side was permitted allowing the ferries to function. A comparative bathymetry study, or underwater depth study, of the river floor between 2005 and 2014 indicated critical areas of sediment accumulation where dredging needed to be done.

PHOTO BY JAMES ARMSTRONG

Keeping the waterway open for ferryboat traffic is a major concern for owner Claude Desjardins pointing out the channel marked by buoys.

Slow moving process

Desjardins has applied to the Quebec government to have the dredging done as soon as possible. The problem appears to be a lack of communication amongst the various government agencies that are part of the process. There also seems to be a collective lack of experience and knowledge regarding the dredging process.

“It’s not something that happens often,” said Desjardins. “Governments change and people retire.”

He hired a professional lobbyist to advance his cause with the hope the work could happen before the end of the 2019 season. The sediment buildup hasn’t posed a problem during the 2019 season because water levels on the Ottawa and Saint Lawrence Rivers are exceptionally high.

Waiting for the ferry woes

At peak hours on a hot sunny weekend, the two ferries that provide a link between Highway 344 and 342 transport approximately 2000 vehicles per day. When problems arise on either of the two bridges linking Vaudreuil-Soulanges to the Island of Montreal, the effect is immediate on ferry traffic according to Desjardins. In turn, that increase in traffic becomes an issue on Main Road and Bellevue Road in Hudson, as they are the main arteries leading to the ferry access. There are 18 to 21 places on each ferry depending on the size of the vehicles and a waiting area containing 69 places on the Hudson side of the river. In Oka, there are 35 waiting places available.

“It’s an immediate and direct impact when there’s roadwork or an accident,” said Desjardins. The population in Vaudreuil-Soulanges is rapidly growing and that also has an impact.

Provincial road system

Whether or not the ferry service is part of the Quebec road system is an interesting question for the ferry owner.

“We have letters from the Ministry of Transport stating we are part of the road network. Other parts of government identify us as complimentary to, or in support of, the road network,” he noted. Stopping on Hudson roads to wait for access to the ferry is not permitted and fines can be issued to motorists. According to Desjardins, however, the town has chosen to send him the fine for the contravention.

“It was a fine of $200 plus the hours spent by Hudson’s Public Security,” he said. When asked if had paid or intended to pay the fine, he declined to comment.

“We had a committee working on the problem. We discussed short-term and long-term solutions. We also did a traffic study regarding where the traffic comes from and its destination,” he said. The majority of the traffic comes from outside the Town of Hudson.

“It’s a provincial link providing a regional service on both sides of the river.”

Future expansion

Going forward, Desjardins sees the need to add a third ferry to his fleet. On high volume days, they are currently operating at full capacity. He has explored the possibility of converting the two diesel powered boats to electrical power and it is a feasible option from an operational point of view.

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