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NNSL Photo/graphic

The MV Lafferty was stationary for approximately four hours on Nov. 2 while a rock was extracted from the rudder system. - Roxanna Thompson/NNSL photo

Speedy ferry shutdown

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services

Fort Simpson (Nov 10/06) - Many residents of Fort Simpson and Wrigley had to scramble on Nov. 2 to be prepared for the closure of the local ferries.

Both the MV Lafferty on the Liard River and MV Johnny Berens at the N'Dulee crossing were shut down on Nov. 2 after only 24 hours notice.

The reduced warning for the closure came as a result of the speed at which the river conditions deteriorated, said Michel Lafrance the regional superintendent of transportation.

"On Oct. 29, there was no indication of the two causes that close ferries - low water levels or ice," said Lafrance. "Because the N'Dulee ferry closed on Nov. 4 last year and the Liard River ferry on Nov. 5, we thought there was still a good window of time," he said.

Starting on Oct. 30, things moved quickly. Water levels dropped fast and ice formation started.

"Conditions really started to deteriorate exponentially," said Lafrance.

Both ferries were put on 72-hours notice on the morning of Nov. 1.

A weight restriction was placed on the Liard River ferry because of low water levels and the N'Dulee ferry had its hours reduced because of ice build up.

At 11:45 a.m. on Nov. 2, the MV Johnny Berens was closed because ice was pressed up against the shore and there was no way to cross, said Lafrance.

Eleven people who found themselves stranded on the wrong side of the crossing were chartered across by the Department of Transportation.

Reduced water levels on the Liard River also made it the last day of service for the MV Lafferty.

Many residents moved quickly to get their vehicles to the other side of the river for use until the ice bridge opens.

"Word spread like wildfire the water was dropping very fast," Lafrance said.

The closure of the MV Lafferty was further complicated when a rock became lodged in the rudder system around 11 a.m.

With the reduced water levels, the power of the propellers kicked up a rock that became wedged, said Lafrance.

Staff had to dismantle an inspection port in the ferry to reach and remove the rock.

Colin Munro was one of the people inconvenienced by the delay.

He had just crossed the ferry that morning to set up barricades for a landing site for Great Slave Helicopters.

He expected to return on the 11:30 a.m. ferry but instead found himself still there until close to 4 p.m., when the ferry started service again.

On the village side of the ferry, a line of 43 vehicles had formed waiting to cross.

The ferry ran until approximately 9 p.m. to move everyone across, said Lafrance.

The department tries to keep the ferry service as open as long as possible but sometimes nature intervenes, he said."Nature just acted so quickly this year," said Lafrance.