By Guy Page
Due to reduced trans-lake commuter traffic, Lake Champlain Transport (LCT) plans to sink the 67-year-old ferry Adirondack outside Burlington Harbor – a move bitterly criticized by longtime lake water quality advocate James Ehlers.
Ferry ridership at the Burlington/Port Kent Ferry has been decreasing in recent years and three boats are no longer needed at this crossing. In addition, with re-alignment of the docks at LCT due to the marina expansion project, there is no longer a space to keep the third boat, LCT said.
The divers’ reef project was first proposed to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers March 5, 2020. Supporters said then they hoped the ferry would be sunk by summertime, but like so many last year, that hope was deferred. According to a FAQ document prepared by LCT, the sunken Adirondack would be a divers’ reef paradise and another “draw” to downtown Burlington. Burlington Bay is already home to three “dive” wrecks: the General Butler, the OJ Walker, and the Horse Ferry. The project would be overseen by a firm that specializes in clean, safe scuttling of ships. All possible sources of pollution.
“Preparation of the vessel for this project is a long, expensive, and laborious process which involves a thorough cleaning of the vessel to remove any contaminants that might be found on board,” LCT said. The process will follow 2006 federal guidelines on the creation of artificial reefs.
The guidelines require that all petroleum lubricated devices be removed from the vessel, LCT said. This includes the engines, compressors, and generators. The fuel tanks and wastewater tanks will be removed. All voids in the boat will be thoroughly cleaned. All electrical conduit will be removed as well as any sources of PCBs and asbestos. Environmental testing recently conducted on Adirondack shows very little of these contaminants on board currently. Any loose or flaking paint will be removed. The rubber roof of the hurricane deck will be removed prior to sinking. The cleaning standards require that no sheen is visible on the water when she sinks and that no danger to the environment exists.
But those reassurances aren’t good enough for Ehlers, former executive director of Lake Champlain International who works with Vermonters for a Clean Environment. “There is no justification for intentionally sinking a potential source of toxic pollution into our drinking water supply and already fragile fisheries habitat – not even to attract out-of-state divers – especially not at taxpayer expense,” he said in an April 8 Facebook post. The ongoing poisoning of our drinking water supply by pesticides, military PFAS, incomplete treatment of human feces and urine, and irresponsible development is reaching crisis levels, already.”
Other options for the Adirondack included scrapping it (the least expensive option), moving it off the lake, keeping it stationary in the water or on dry land (such as the ferry Ticonderoga at Shelburne Museum). LCT chose sinking it as the best way to preserve the ship’s historic contribution to Lake Champlain, the company said.
More than 100 people commented on Ehlers’ post. Response was mixed. Some agreed – “that’s a h–l of a way to treat the lake that made them their fortune for years. Pretty piss-poor stewardship. Ingrates!”
Others suggested tongue-in-cheek alternatives: “park it next to the Moran plant, and call it art.”
Still others disagreed: “Look at the artificial reef system in the Carolinas and how successful it is, I feel this proclamation is an emotional based decision rather than logic reasoning and cross referencing biological studies.”
LCT disputes Ehlers’ claim that the project will be state funded. The company will pay for the preparation and execution of the sinking, “the only State funds needed will be to purchase a buoy to mark the site and limited funds for public interpretation of the site.”