Funding saves ferry service
The Sistersville Ferry’s financial woes have been resolved – for now.
City Council met in emergency session Thursday and voted to close the ferry immediately due to a more than $15,000 deficit in its budget. But that all changed about 6 p.m. Friday, after the city and the ferry board were notified the state would provide $25,000 to continue its operations.
“It’s open as of right now,” board Chairman John Eckles said Friday evening. “We will operate tomorrow as normal.”
Noting that the city’s annual Oil & Gas Festival was under way with the Sistersville Marble Festival on tap for this weekend, Eckles said he was very happy to get the boat back in service so quickly. The Sistersville Ferry is the only means by which people can cross the Ohio River when traveling to and from Tyler County.
A last-minute move by the Governor’s Office provided the necessary funding via a Local Economic Development Grant, according to acting Senate President Jeff Kessler. He said such money can be used to promote tourism.
“The governor’s office came up with the funding until a more permanent solution was found,” said Kessler, D-Marshall.
Sistersville Mayor Dave Fox called the Thursday meeting at which council voted to close the ferry. After hearing the news, he said, Kessler’s office called him and said the Governor’s Office could guarantee enough money to keep it running.
“The ferry boat was in the red,” Fox said. “Every day of running it, we were losing money.”
He pointed out that Tyler County is the only West Virginia County along the Ohio River that does not have a bridge to Ohio. And while the ferry is not a money-making enterprise, he said he does not know of any bridges that make money, either.
“And maintaining the ferry is a lot cheaper than building a $150 million bridge,” he added, noting the state funds should be enough to support the ferry through the remainder of the year.
Although the West Virginia Department of Transportation has approved an $85,600 grant for the Sistersville Ferry, the funds can only be used for maintenance and repairs to the vessel and upgrades to the terminal, or landing. In the past, all repairs have been paid for with money taken in by fares or from funds allocated by council.
Fox said that grant has not been received yet, and stressed it cannot be used to pay for the approximately $3,800 in diesel fuel the ferry uses each month. It also cannot be used to pay the wages of the pilots and deckhands or for insurance coverage.
He estimated that to generate $15,000 in fares, the ferry would have to transport 4,000 vehicles.
Fox hopes Kessler and Sen. Larry Edgell, D-Wetzel, can work with Tyler County Development Authority Director Eric Peters and city officials to see that a line item for the ferry’s future operations can be placed in the state budget.
“As far as we’re concerned, it’s the state’s bridge,” Fox said, pointing out the city has to maintain a portion of W.Va. 18 that makes up the West Virginia landing, as well as the landing on the Ohio side and an acre of ground there. Ohio does not contribute to the ferrys operation or maintenance.
In operation for 194 years, the Sistersville Ferry provides transportation and serves as a tourist attraction. It operates from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. It is expected to run until sometime in November – usually around Thanksgiving, depending on the weather. Officials anticipate it will reopen in the spring, about April 1.