November 6, 2009

Dig planned for site of proposed NY-Vt. ferry


ALBANY — A New York archaeological team began work Friday on a state-owned campground at an 18th-century military site where a temporary ferry service is being considered to replace the closed Champlain Bridge, officials said.

Experts from the New York State Museum in Albany were planning to excavate sections of the Crown Point campground, adjacent to the bridge at the south end of Lake Champlain 95 miles north of Albany.

New York transportation officials closed the bridge Oct. 16 after severe erosion was found on some of the concrete piers supporting the 2,184-foot span. The bridge connects Crown Point and Addison, Vt. It accommodated some 3,500 vehicles a day.

A temporary ferry service would require construction on both shorelines at historically sensitive places that were the sites of British and French forts and settlements.

At the New York end of the bridge, a state historic site that's home to 18th-century military ruins is directly across the road from the campground where other colonial remnants have been found.

On the Vermont side, artifacts from French settlements dating back to the mid-1700s have been uncovered at a place known as Chimney Point.

If the ferry project gets approval from regulatory agencies in both states, access roads would have to be built from the Vermont and New York bridge approach roads to the shorelines, crossing ground occupied by armies of Englishmen, Frenchmen and Americans for much of the 1700s.

"It's one of the major French and British military concentrations in the country, and before that you would have had Native Americans," said archaeologist David Starbuck, who excavated Chimney Point 20 years ago but wasn't taking part in the current project.

New York state archaeologist Christina Rieth said experts from the State Museum will examine an area of the campground for significant artifacts. Their analysis will be passed on to state Department of Transportation engineers who would design the new road to the shoreline.

Similar work was being done on the other side of the bridge, according to John Zicconi, spokesman for the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

"We've not been made aware of any hurdles at all from an archaeological standpoint on our side," he said.

The DOT, in charge of bridge maintenance, and the AOT are among an alphabet soup of government agencies working to get the required permits to start a ferry service. All are trying to find a quick solution — whether it be a temporary bridge or a new ferry — to a vexing situation that has resulted in an 80-mile detour for those who used the bridge regularly.

At the same time, the agencies are aware of the historically sensitive nature of Crown Point and its place in the region's history.

"A lot of things that happened at other places during the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War really started here," said Charles Vandrei, historic preservation officer for New York's Department of Environmental Conservation, which operates the Crown Point campground.

While never subjected to a direct assault, Crown Point was a key staging area and supply base for military operations, first by the French starting in the 1730s and later by the British and colonial forces.

Most of the notable military figures from the era were at Crown Point at various times, from Maj. Robert Rogers of Rogers' Rangers fame to Benedict Arnold. George Washington also stopped by for a visit during his tour of northern military sites the end of the American Revolution.