Woodland residents want smaller ferry

By Lynn R. Parks

Citizens of Woodland are objecting to a state proposal to double the size of the Woodland Ferry. According to a letter sent to the Delaware Department of Transportation and signed by 28 Woodland residents, the proposed six-car ferry would “spoil the uniqueness of Delaware’s number one tourist attraction.” Meanwhile, the Woodland Ferry Association, which originally endorsed the six-car ferry, is holding a special vote of its membership, to determine if their support has changed. The ferry crosses the Nanticoke River at Woodland, about 5 miles west of Seaford. A ferry has crossed the river at Woodland since 1793; when it is operating, the cable-guided vessel carries between 150 and 200 cars across the river daily. The citizens of Woodland do not disagree that a new ferry is called for: because of mechanical problems and problems loading at high and low tides, the 43-year-old ferry operates about 60 percent of the time. “Everyone agrees that the ferry now in service needs to be replaced,” the letter to DelDOT says. But they feel that the new ferry should be the same size as the current one, able to accommodate three cars. “A small ferry would be much more in keeping with the rustic and historical character of our small village,” the letter says. At a public hearing held Dec. 2 in the hall of Woodland United Methodist Church, engineers with DelDOT presented plans for the six-car ferry. The ferry, which would be 30 feet 4 inches wide, would cost about $800,000. Also presented at the hearing were plans for a three-car ferry, 22 feet wide and estimated to cost $600,000. At that time, the six-car ferry had the endorsement of the Woodland Ferry Association. Association members endorsed the larger ferry during their annual banquet in November. “A six-car ferry is necessary,” said association member Phil Livingston, an adamant supporter of the larger ferry. Livingston said that on a recent trip across the river, he had to sit in a line of seven cars to wait for the ferry. On the other side, four cars were waiting.
“These are cars that are sitting there, idling, with their exhaust going into houses,” he said. But association president Rodger Hamrick said that after the Dec. 2 workshop, he began getting calls from members, saying they preferred the smaller ferry. On Monday, the association started mailing cards to its nearly 30 members, to ask which ferry they support. Hamrick said that he hopes to have all the cards back by next Monday. DelDOT has requested that it be notified of the results by Tuesday. Donna Angell, who grew up in Woodland and who now lives about a mile away, attended the association meeting at which the plans for the six-car ferry were presented. “At first, we were all gung-ho about the bigger ferry,” she said. “But after the meeting, when we had a little more time to think what it would mean to Woodland, we backed off in favor of the three-car ferry.” Woodland resident Jack Knowles, whose grandfather Henry Knowles Sr. was a ferry captain, is worried that the larger ferry would bring more traffic into Woodland. “I just don’t think that Woodland needs it,” he said. Bill Royal, president emeritus of the association, said that a bigger ferry would damage the small-town, historic nature of Woodland. “It would be like dropping in a big Goliath where a David could take care of things,” he said. Livingston disagrees. “The six-car ferry would only be eight feet wider and won’t increase traffic,” he said. “We have to plan 20 or 30 years ahead.” DelDOT engineer Joe Wright said that the state will try to do whatever residents and association members want. “That is the whole purpose of having public hearings, to determine what the public wants then to act accordingly,” he said. The state’s 2005 bond bill, which included funding for the new ferry, also included money to redo approaches to the ferry on both the north and south banks. Wright said that final plans for the ferry and for the new slips have not yet been sent to contractors. He anticipates that the state will still be able to meet its original timetable, which calls for closing the ferry after the Woodland Ferry Festival, which takes place the second week in September, and having the new ferry running by the spring of 2006.

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