Ft. Ti ferry is back on the water
SHOREHAM — The Fort Ticonderoga Ferry has finally started its 2011 season after a seven-week, flood-related delay that has taken a financial toll on the system’s owners.
“Things seem to be going better right now,” said Alison Matot, who co-owns the ferry with her husband, Michael. The historic cable-drawn ferry links Shoreham with Ticonderoga, N.Y., across Lake Champlain. Were this a “normal” year, the Matots would have been able to fire up the ferry back in late April.
But this has been far from a normal year.
Relentless rainfall and a larger-than-usual winter thaw raised Lake Champlain to historic levels, well above flood stage (Champlain floods at 100 feet above sea level, this year it rose above 102 feet). As a result, much of the Fort Ti Ferry’s infrastructure was under water through May and the first half of June.
Finally, two weeks ago, the lake level got to a point (under 100 feet) where Mike Matot was able to go into the water to make some adjustments to the ferry’s cable mechanism that would allow it to kick back into gear.
“I was in the water three of the first four days,” Matot said on Thursday, when the lake level was at around 98 feet, 9 inches.
Getting the ferry running again solved only part of the problem. The Matots have been trying to get word out to their customers that they are again open. Plus, the receding floodwaters continue to bring debris into the ferry’s path. On Father’s Day, Mike Matot had to cut away a 10-foot long piece of nylon that had fouled the ferry system’s propeller.
“It’s a different hurdle every year,” Matot said. “Ever since we bought the ferry, there has been a different challenge.”
Indeed, it seems the Matots haven’t seen an even-keeled season since acquiring the business almost three years ago.
Their first season happened to coincide with closure of the Champlain Bridge in 2009. Their small operation — equipped to handle a maximum of 18 cars at a time — was besieged by hundreds of commuters suddenly cut off from jobs across the lake. The Ti Ferry season was extended into the winter that year with the use of special equipment to inhibit icing.
The Matots again saw unusually heavy traffic during the 2010 season while a new ferry system gained momentum near the site of a new Champlain Bridge that is under construction and due to open on Oct. 9.
This year the Matots faced the other extreme — an interruption in ferry operation, which only now is beginning to hit its daily stride of more than 100 vehicles per day.
“It’s been nice to see the return customers, who are glad to see us back,” Alison Matot said.
While it’s nice to be back in business, the Matots said they experienced thousands of dollars in lost revenue during the seven-week ferry hiatus at the beginning of the season. Mike Matot explained the couple looked into obtaining a low-interest loan through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) following the flood-related disaster declaration in several Vermont counties. But the Matots said they were dismayed to learn they could not qualify for a FEMA loan, as their loss involved income and not damage to physical property.
“I don’t understand it,” Matot said. “We can give billions to other countries but we can’t give loans to people who need them here.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].