By ALVIN REINER
WESTPORT — A new ferry service will carry foot passengers to and from Westport and Basin Harbor, Vt., to ease problems created by the Champlain Bridge closure.
The service will start Monday.
State, county and town officials, business owners, police and others met Thursday afternoon at Westport Town Hall to coordinate plans for the ferry service.
Westport Town Supervisor Daniel Connell said that because states of emergency have been declared by New York and Vermont, "a lot of red tape goes away. You need to do what is needed. One of our primary concerns is if Westport will be able to handle all of the people."
Essex County Transportation Coordinator Nancy Dougal pointed out that 1,000 to 1,500 county residents need to get to Vermont for employment, including 335 workers headed for the Middlebury area.
Also, an average of 50 ambulance runs are made per month.
Parking will be at the Essex County Fairgrounds, with a shuttle taking passengers to the ferry at Westport Marina.
The Olympic Regional Development Authority is loaning a 35-passenger bus for the shuttle.
"We're ready to roll on Monday morning," Dougal said.
Concerns about people parking in downtown Westport will be alleviated by signs restricting parking to two hours.
State Department of Transportation regional engineer Mike Fayette said the agency would provide signage, and Essex County Undersheriff Richard Cutting said flashing signs are available to direct motorists.
HELP FROM MARINA
The Carroll family has agreed to allow the ferry to dock at Westport Marina, though Larry Carroll requested that cars not be parked at the business, as they are still removing and storing boats at this time of year.
The marina will allow commuters with personal watercraft to moor there for free.
One of the largest employers on the Vermont side, Goodrich, in Vergennes, is interested in utilizing the new ferry to shuttle employees.
Brian Goodyear of Basin Harbor, Vt., which will operate the 48-passenger ferry, was pleased with the coordinated efforts.
"This is encouraging. It's about as fluid as it gets. We were hoping to find a relationship between New York and Vermont. This has been an eye-opener."
Goodyear said Addison Co. Transit will run two buses: one to Vergennes and the other to Middlebury.
Tickets will go on sale Friday at Goodrich and Sheer Cuts in Vergennes, though purchases may be made at the ferry itself. A round trip will be $8, and a five-day pass will go for $34.
"The biggest unknown will be how many passengers we will have," Goodrich said. "We cross our fingers that we can keep up with a 48-passenger capacity for the first two ferries."
Several issues remain to be worked out in the next few days, including possible shuttles from Crown Point and Moriah, potential funding to help defray ferry costs for people with financial difficulties, handicapped accessibility and additional restrooms besides those at the fairgrounds.
Another concern was voiced by Essex County Emergency Director Donald Jaquish concerning the increased use of watercraft. His department is working with firefighters and other safety personnel on cold-water-rescue training.
Looking toward the future, there are hopes for ferry service in the next month or so at the site of the closed bridge in Crown Point.
U.S. Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand requested Thursday that the Federal Highways Administration provide DOT with all assistance and technical support possible in the efforts to resolve the disruptive situation caused by the closure of the bridge.
They are seeking emergency contracting procedures so that when funding and construction needs are determined, the process can move forward as quickly as possible.
David C. Hirtle of Crown Point and others are organizing gatherings on both sides of the bridge at 3 p.m. Sunday to reflect upon, show support for or pray for a solution for the bridge crisis.
"With the sudden and devastating closure of the Crown Point/Champlain Bridge comes the realization that our neighbors, our communities and our merchants are in a position of great pain and loss," Hirtle said in a statement.
"Gone is that sense that their jobs will provide security for their families. Gone is the ability to travel freely to the doctor, the hospital, the shopping plaza and, yes, even their favorite restaurant.
"For most of us living on either side of the lake, our incomes provide only the essentials as we struggle to keep up with rising food and fuel cost. And now, a tariff, as it were, in the form of a hundred-mile detour or the added time and expense of a ferry trip.
"Spread the word! Let's join together and share with each other the spirit of community that cannot be closed down.
"Let's send a message to our respective governors that we are more than collateral damage; we're a collective community and will not be silenced."
For more information on the rally, contact Hirtle at 597-3398 or Cindy Bodette at 597-3545.