Friday, August 26, 2011

Save the Ferries

On August 25th I attended a meeting between the public supporting Saving the Ferries that run between Chester and Hadlyme as well as Rocky Hill and Glastonbury and representatives from the Department of Transportation here in Connecticut.

Present from the DOT were: Jim Redeker, Commissioner; Phil Scarozzo, Moderator; Chuck Beck, Maritime Manager; Cheryl Malerba; and Colleen Kissane, Scenic Roads.

From the left, Chuck Beck, Maritime Manager, Cheryl Malerba, Colleen Kissane, Scenic Roads, and Commissioner Jim Redeker.

State Representative Phil Miller chats with the DOT Commissioner prior to the meeting. Off to the left, we can see Mr. Scarrozzo with Mr. Beck and to the right we see Ms. Malerba and Ms. Kissane at the table.

Representative Miller speaks with Mr. Scarrozzo while Ms. Kissane chats with State Representative Marilyn Giuliano.

Panel moderator Phil Scarrozzo at the podium.

The meeting was opened with Commissioner Redeker making a statement. He mentioned that closing the ferries was off the table for 2 years since labor concessions had been made earlier. He went on to say that he understood that the ferries were historical, transportational and recreational. But that they also come with challenges and threats. The ferry began in Chester in 1769 and has run on a limited schedule. Vehicle fees are $3 and walk ons average 14 per day. The ferry takes two people to run in three shifts per day and runs at a $284,000 deficit per year. The 62 year old vessel is due for replacement at a cost of 4-5 million dollars, an upcoming capitol need. The floor was opened for questions.

Phil Miller, State Representative for Essex, Deep River, Chester and Haddam, stood up and said that he knew Commissioner Redeker and had worked with him before and that he listened well and had an open mind. He further said that the ferries represented a working transportation infrastructure that was vital to the area and should be kept. Especially as bridges are not an option over the Connecticut River. He included that the ferries will be marketed better in the future for tourism. He noted that while privatizing is a slippery slope, he was aware of an offer, and would this be considered by the DOT. The Commissioner indicated that it would.

A member of the public stood and commented that closure of the ferry would have a negative impact on real estate values on both sides of the River. He proposed to raise the fares; place a toll on the Haddam Swing Bridge; an create voluntary tolls to keep the ferries running.

A member of the public from Enland said that in his country they have plenty of history and they can make money off of it. This is your history; maybe there is money allocated to preserve it. The commissioner said that he would check into that.

Another member of the public stood and commented that if donations were made, the funds should be so that they only go to the ferry, not to other things. The commissioner said that they would create a direct fund.

Ralph Eno, First Selectman of Lyme, CT, indicated that he was also on the Board of 9 Town Transit. He said that there are compelling reasons to keep the ferry and that he was glad that the ferry doesn’t have to be revenue neutral. He would like to explore the possibility with DOT of 9 Town Transit running the Rocky Hill ferry.

State Rep. Marilyn Giuliano speaks.

State Representative Marilyn Giuliano, representing Lyme, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook and Westbrook, stood and said that a partnership with 9 Towns made sense.

A member of the public stood and read some comments that were not her own: higher fares for out of state vehicles, adopt a ferry, ferry rentals, lottery to benefit the ferry, she held up a childrens’ book called “Ferry Boat” that was about the Chester ferry. She wanted all present to sign it and then it would be auctioned off to benefit the ferry.

Another member of the public stood and said that the ferry’s carbon footprint was much better than the cars’ because all of the cars’ turn off their engines while on the ferry.

Another great idea was that the ferries be included on foliage routes in the fall.

Another was to make the ferries part of the State Parks system or to purchase used vessels instead of new.

At one point, the Commissioner said that he needed more data on the ferries. a member of the public stood and said we could run surveys for you. I commented and said “Maybe what you are looking for is a study. You have here a room full of people who are chomping at the bit to help you learn whatever you need to know about the ferries. Just let us know how to help you and we will. If you want to see documentation in a study form, you are the Commissioner, you have to make that happen. You have the manpower and you are the boss. It is your job. Don”t stand there and tell us you want to see documentation unless we can help you, because we are all very frustrated.” He then said that there was a sign up sheet at the side of the room. Another member of the public indicated that a study would make a great masters thesis project. The commissioner mentioned that he was scheduled to visit the University Connecticut in the future.

The audience at the Chester Meeting House.

My letter to Mr. Scarrozzo stated that cutting the ferries was too small a savings to make much difference towards the state’s enormous $1.6 billion deficit, compared with the destructive losses and costs it would impart to state tourism and local areas’ merchants, citizens and emergency crews. After cutting the ferries, the state would still wake up the next morning with their billion dollar headache!

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