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The causeway leading to a boat that has ferried workers and pleasure seekers across the St. Clair River in Sombra, Ont. for 55 years was crushed by ice Thursday, threatening to kill a fifth-generation family business.

The Bluewater Ferry was built by Morgan Dalgety’s grandfather decades ago, with the Canadian government supporting the enterprise by building a causeway leading to its dock back in 1962.

‘Your dock is collapsing’

On Thursday morning Dalgety got a call from the person who lives next to the place where that road reaches land.

“They said ‘Your dock is collapsing,'” he said. “They thought it was an earthquake it was shaking so much.”

“I’m sick to death. I can’t think straight because this is my livelihood and this basically put us out of business.”
-Morgan Dalgety, Bluewater Ferry

The river was clogged with ice, so the ferry had not been operating for more than a week. Then the icebreaker came by.

“The Canadian Coast Guard was escorting four freighters down the river today … and the river has been plugged with ice,” Dalgety explained. “It shifted the ice above our dock when they went through and pushed the ice into our dock, causing our causeway to collapse.”

Pictures he shot with his cellphone show the extent of the damage. Twisted steel and pavement that looks more like a roller coaster track than a roadway are framed by thick wooden posts shattered into splinters.

The force of the ice twisted the steel and snapped wooden supports holding up the causeway. (Morgan Dalgety)

In all his years along the water, Delgatey said he’s never seen such a big ice field move with so much force. The causeway didn’t stand a chance.

“We actually had 18, 40-foot oak spiles, which we use for clusters in front of our causeway just so this wouldn’t happen. They were 14-inch thick spiles and they snapped them off like toothpicks.”

The roadway was too expensive to ensure, meaning Delgaty and his family are desperately searching for help.

He’s already called a construction company in Windsor for an estimate to cover the repair work, the news was not good.

“To get that one out of there and build a new one will be around $4 million and by the time you get permits and everything it’s going to be about a year,” said Dalgety.  “I’m sick to death. I can’t think straight because this is my livelihood and this basically put us out of business.”

Busy boats facing year-long break

In its peak season during the spring or summer the company’s two 12-car ferries cross the river about 40 times a day. In the winter months business is slower, but “if the ice is moving we’re running,” said Dalgety.

“We have a lot of nurses who cross there and some for the auto industry who go over to Detroit but mostly its shoppers, day trippers and people that own cottages.”

CCGS SAMUEL RISLEY

Dalgety said Canadian Coast Guard Vessel Samuel Risley was escorting four freighters down the St. Clair River when it pushed the massive ice shelf that caused the damage. (Canadian Coast Guard)

Facing a year-long wait and the possibility of having to cough up millions his company doesn’t have, Dalgety said he’s reached out the the coast guard and government in Ottawa asking for help.

“I’m gong to be on the phone or in my truck or on a plane, knocking on a whole bunch of doors and seeing if we can’t get some help because the Bluewater Ferry doesn’t have $4 million to build a causeway,” he stated bluntly. “It’s either we get help from the government or we go bankrupt.”

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