Burlington officials will weigh in Tuesday on a controversial plan to sink an old ferry in Lake Champlain.
The city’s Parks & Recreation Commission, which also serves as the Harbor Commission, will take the issue up at its 5:30 p.m. meeting, under an agenda item labeled “ferry scuttling.”
It will be the first of two public hearings on a proposal that environmental groups, concerned about impacts on water quality, have opposed.
The Lake Champlain Transportation Company wants to sink the retired ferry Adirondack about a mile off the Burlington shore to create a “reef” that divers could explore.
The 108-year-old ferry has been operating on Lake Champlain between Burlington and Port Kent for 65 years.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation granted the company a permit, but local organizations have appealed the decision.
Andrea Todd, a member of the commission, was surprised the state granted the company a permit with little, if any input, from the city.
“This kind of piqued our interest because it's right off the coast of the Burlington shore,” Todd said.
Sinking the ferry would be easier and less expensive than hauling it out of the water and displaying it or scrapping it, so the company is proposing to donate it to the state.
“The Ferry Adirondack Project is an opportunity to preserve this piece of Lake Champlain history by sinking the vessel in the Lake and adding it, as a site, to the existing Lake Champlain Underwater Historic Preserve,” the company says in its proposal.
That preserve is a group of 10 vessels that sunk by accident, not deliberately.
They are popular with local divers who must follow rules, including those against scavenging.
That appeal will likely take months, however. In the interim, Todd said, she wanted to make sure locals were well aware of the proposal.
She admits the commission “has no teeth” and is merely advisory. But the Burlington City Council may very well want to get involved if it turns out the scuttling location is within the city’s jurisdiction.
That’s one of the questions Todd hopes the hearing will answer. The city has an ordinance against placing any "sunken vessel" or "derelict craft" in "any part of the harbor." It could therefore be problematic if the ferry were sunk in Burlington's waterfront domain.
The first meeting, which will take place on Zoom, will include a presentation from the company and the Waterfront Diving Center. The second one, in June, will focus more on environmental concerns, Todd said.
She shares those concerns, but says she’s open to hearing more from the company about how it would remove the toxins, such as PCBs, from the craft before it goes to its watery grave.
“Personally, I don’t really want a ferry to be dumped in our water,” she said.