What once was an exciting concept to establish an inter-island freight and passenger ferry service from Port Castlecliff to Motueka, now appears to be floundering.

Whanganui District Council boss Kym Fell says there will be no more ratepayer resources until the ferry proposers front up with a viable business case - and by business case he means more than rhetoric.

When MidWest Ferries director Neville Johnson first floated his idea more than two years ago, it was obvious from the outset that it was a bold and ambitious idea.

But he promised that the figures would stack up, and the myriad obstacles - river dredging, wildlife, ferry turning room, tides and sailing times - could all be overcome.

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His extensive contacts in the freight industry were enthusiastic, he said - a Whanganui-to-Motueka ferry service would save them money and time. So financial backing, including interest from a mystery big investor, would surely follow.

Except it hasn't.

Instead MidWest Ferries reached out to the public purse for backing which, to be fair, is understandable given the lack of venture capital available in New Zealand compared to, say, the United States.

MidWest has received support from both the council and private citizens excited by the project's prospects for employment, prosperity and a re-invigorated port.

But there have been areas for concern.

Firstly promised "shares" in the company were hastily re-termed to donations, although MidWest continue to promise returns on those donations.

Then a long-awaited feasibility study was found to be lacking the promised detail required.

And this month Midwest Ferries was late filing its annual company office return and only seemed to be aware of the issue when approached by the Chronicle.

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A game-changing project like the ferry service must be beyond reproach, but Midwest has proved evasive with the media and reluctant to be held accountable. Now council is saying it's time to front up.

Many of us would love to see the project come to fruition, but to commit more public funding at this stage would be imprudent.

It's time for Midwest Ferries to produce.