Debate over size of ferry results in riders’ survey

By Lynn R. Parks

In the wake of a dispute over the size of the new Woodland Ferry, the state has decided to conduct a survey of riders of the ferry. But if a decision about the size of the ferry is not made soon, the schedule that the state laid out for its construction and for construction of new landings could be disrupted. And that could mean either more down time for the ferry or tens of thousands of dollars to fix up the current 43-year-old vessel. The state’s original timetable 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. But Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) engineer Joe Wright said that time to get the needed permits is running short. “We can’t develop plans until we know what size ferry we are putting in,” Wright said. “That means we can’t submit plans to all the permitting agencies. “We are still hopeful, but we are getting concerned. We are getting to the point that things could be delayed.” The ferry is facing a Coast Guard inspection in August. That state had planned to request that the Coast Guard postpone the inspection until September, at which time Wright expected that the ferry would be out of service. “But if we are still in service three, four or five months after August, will the Coast Guard still be willing to work with us?” Wright wondered. “And if not, will the state spend the money to get the ferry up to standard? Or will we shut down service?” The Coast Guard examines the ferry every five years. After the last ferry inspection in 2000, the state had to put $64,000 into the boat to bring it up to Coast Guard standards. The 1990 inspection cost the state $200,000. The Woodland Ferry Association originally endorsed the state’s proposal for a six-car ferry. The current ferry has room for three cars.
But after a letter objecting to the larger ferry, signed by 28 residents of Woodland, was sent to the Delaware Department of Transportation, the association changed its endorsement to that of a smaller, three-car ferry. The letter said that the proposed six-car ferry would “spoil the uniqueness of Delaware’s number one tourist attraction.” The ferry crosses the Nanticoke River at Woodland, about 5 miles west of Seaford. When it is operating, the cable-guided vessel carries between 150 and 200 cars across the river daily. But because of mechanical problems and problems loading at high and low tides, the current 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 the Woodland citizens who signed the letter feel that the new ferry should be the same size as the current one. “A small ferry would be much more in keeping with the rustic and historical character of our small village,” their letter says. The six-car ferry would be 30 feet 4 inches wide and would cost about $800,000. A new three-car ferry would be 22 feet wide and would cost about $600,000. Proponents of the six-car ferry argue that a larger boat would enable more cars to cross the river at a time, eliminated lines at the ferry ramps. “From an environmental standpoint, it isn’t a good thing to have cars sitting there with their engines idling,” said Phil Livingston, a member of the Woodland Ferry Association. The six-car vessel would also have room for large vehicles such as farm equipment and fire-fighting equipment that the current ferry can’t accommodate. Wright said that the state decided to survey riders of the ferry because it was getting “mixed messages” about which size boat citizens want. Century Engineering, Dover, will conduct the survey, handing out forms as passengers load onto the ferry and collecting the forms as the passengers disembark. The two-day survey will be conducted on a Saturday and a weekday. Cost of the survey will be $1,000 to $2,000, Wright said.

News tips wanted
Call us with ideas for news and features. We're always looking for good stories to share with readers. Call Bryant Richardson at 629-9788.