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Ferry closes for winter

By Staff | Oct 15, 2014

The Sistersville Ferry is currently docked because of transmission problems, but a grant for repairs hopes to put the boat on the move again. Council was to discuss it Tuesday. (Photo by Amy Witschey)

Sistersville Council voted at their Oct. 14 meeting to close the ferry for the remainder of the year.

The decision came on a 3-2 vote with one councilman, Phil Konopacky, abstaining. Voting for the closure were Mark Klages, Harold “Junie” Dally, and Bonnie Hizer. Bryan Owens and Richard Long voted against the measure. Absent from the meeting were Mitch Corley and Rachel Marrin, who tendered her resignation from the body on Friday, too late to be put on the Oct. 14 agenda.

When discussion of the ferry surfaced at the meeting, Mayor Bill Rice said it was closed on Oct. 3 because it was having transmission problems. They were worried about it getting mid-river and ceasing operation.

Klages interjected, “The main reason we shut it down is the ferry hasn’t made payroll and it is hemmoraging cash.”

He explained that he and Hizer, as the finance committee, made the decision to shut it down. Corley is also on that committee but always removes himself and abstains from any ferry issues because a family member works on the vessel.

Tyler County Development Authority Director Eric Peters, left, accepts a check on behalf of the Development Authority from Senator Larry Edgell for repairs to the Sistersville Ferry. (Photo by Ed Parsons)

But Klages emphasized, “Nobody ever talked about shutting the ferry down permanently. We need to find a solution for next year.”

Actually, that was part of the approved motion made by Dally. In addition to saying they would close the ferry for the remainder of the year, they would also find a way to get it open and up and running, financially and mechanically secure, for the right time next year.

“This is not a new thing,” said Rice, who alluded to a time about 10 years ago when the ferry was shut down for a period. “There comes a time when you’ve got to say, ‘I’ve got to quit here,'”

Of course the closure upsets some people-for both transportation and tradition reasons.

“For people to say it’s part of our heritage-you don’t have to tell me that,” said Rice, a lifelong Sistersville resident.

However, he also noted that he looked through the ferry’s finances in recent months. For the past 13 paydays-or 26 weeks-the ferry only had enough income to meet payroll, about $4,000, three times.

In a related matter, council appointed Lisa Leach as a ferry board member. Currently, the ferry board is meeting on the first and third Tuesdays of the month at the cty building, 7 p.m.

(Editor’s note: The following story printed in the Oct. 15 edition of the Tyler Star News, which went to press before the council met Tuesday evening.)

BY AMY WITSCHEY

The Sistersville Ferry closed on Oct. 3 for transmission repairs and it looks like there is hope for it to continue its regular journeys across the Ohio River soon.

That hope came Tuesday when Eric Peters, director of the Tyler County Development Authority, and Senator Larry Edgell appeared before the Tyler County Commission to make the commissioners aware of an emergency grant for $7,500 received from the state through the efforts of Edgell to be used to repair the transmission of the Sistersville Ferry.

Mayor Bill Rice said Monday that recent stoppage of operations was not intended to be final, as some rumors say. “The ferry is having some financial issues we’re going to discuss tomorrow (Tuesday) night at the council meeting,” said Rice. The regular council meeting was moved from Monday to Tuesday because of the Columbus Day holiday. The Tyler Star News went to press Tuesday before the council meeting took place.

The regular operating costs of the ferry are the primary financial drain. Rice noted that diesel fuel costs them about $100 per day. “Wages and fuel are just killing us,” said the mayor.

They are in discussions with Del. Roger Romine and Sen. Edgell to see if they could possibly get some funding for operations. Generally most grants are for specific repairs, like the transmission, and not regular operating costs.

“If you can run it, you can run it,” simply stated Rice. “They are working on the transmission right now, then they’ll look at if they can get it back opened and run it until perhaps sometime in November.” The ferry traditionally closes for the winter months.

At last month’s council meeting Sistersville City Council unanimously passed the first reading of an ordinance expanding the ferry board membership requirements.

Currently the city ordinance requires that members live within the city limits. The new ordinance will remove the residency requirement altogether.

This has been a topic of discussion at the past several council meetings. Councilman Phil Konopacky has been advocating a change, particularly since Peters, who does the group’s grant writing, lives in Davenport.

Konopacky said there are some people in Ohio that are interested in helping out with it. He noted that was appropriate since it does service the Ohio side of the river too.

Even without the residency requirement, membership is ultimately up to the city council. They still have the authority to vote them in or out.