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Ferry talks continue in Prescott


The proposed ferry project was up for discussion at a meeting of town council in Prescott recently.

It is hoped the ferry will begin transporting pedestrians and cyclists across the river between Prescott and Ogdensburg this summer, and council talked about what the next steps should be at a regular meeting on February 26.

A feasibility study showed that the project is practical, but some decisions about how to proceed must be made soon if the ferry is to get underway. Details of the proposed pilot project were presented at the February 26 meeting by Prescott's CAO and treasurer, Matthew Armstrong. The same plan was submitted to and up for discussion by municipal representatives in Ogdensburg.

The goal of the pilot project would be to break even, and the proposal outlined at the meeting involves chartering a ferry with a capacity of between 20-30 passengers. The ferry would operate eight hours a day, with an estimated average passenger load of 25 people. That would mean 400 people would cross--200 in each direction--each day. The cost of the vessel would be between $2000 and $4000, which would mean that the cost to passengers would have to be $5-10 if the project were to break even. The pilot project would run over either two or three weekends, and to better gauge demand, these weekends would not fall on a holiday.

There are many details to pin down, cost being the most important, but also a proper vessel needs to be found and formal agreements must be made with the two border service agencies. There were some concerns about the cost of the project. Councillor Lee McConnell asked if Ogdensburg would help foot the bill if the pilot project lost money.

"I would be interested in knowing if Ogdensburg would be interested in providing half of that shortfall," asked McConnell.

Mayor Brett Todd was able to answer his colleague's question, noting that Ogdensburg's city manager, Sarah Purdy, brought that topic up at a recent meeting and confirmed that Ogdensburg would, indeed, help cover the cost of a shortfall, which Purdy suggested could range between $5,000-$10,000.

The mayor also noted that Prescott put up the initial $45,000 for the feasibility study and that Ogdensburg does have access to some money from the state for other parts of the project, such as marketing and the charter itself. Exactly how the cost of the project is going to be divided has yet to be decided, but the mayor is eager to make sure the division is equitable.

"We've got to talk about that money and how we get a bit more of our fair share back because we did spend that 50 up front," said Todd.

Councillor Ray Young shared McConnell's questions about the cost of the project.

"While I would support private enterprise taking on something like this, I don't think it's something the town wants to finance," said Young, noting that he did not find the feasibility study all that convincing.

Young was in favour, however, of permitting staff to investigate the project further and to come up with more solid figures. Councillor Mike Ostrander was also in favour of staff taking a closer look at the numbers, particularly since Ogdensburg also seems to be in favour of proceeding with the project.

After the most recent municipal elections south of the border, Prescott wasn't quite sure where the four new elected members would come down on the ferry project, but the new members seem to be just as enthusiastic.

Earlier in the meeting, Todd noted that he had had attended two meetings in Ogdensburg, the first one alongside town staff, fellow councillors, former councillor Fraser Laschinger and retired Senator Bob Runciman, who was the first to venture the ferry idea and has been a strong supporter of the project. At the most recent meeting, Ogdensburg's elected officials supported the pilot project.

"There were a lot of great words and a lot of great enthusiasm there for going ahead with that pilot project, and of course tremendous hope that we'll be able to make it an ongoing thing," said Todd.

Of course, the mayor can't say for sure if the ferry will be a hit, but he said that it's worth trying, and that council must strike a balance between safeguarding taxpayers' dollars and trying new things to see if they can generate economic activity. Particularly, he hopes that by positioning the town as a destination for the cycling community, Prescott might be able to boost its tourist numbers.

"Starting anything new and innovative is generally going to cost a couple of bucks, and I think we're just going to have to really keep an eye on this and take a look at what's brought back by staff and then determine how we go forward and how we control whatever costs there are," said the mayor.

Regardless of how the ferry project turns out, though, Todd was pleased that some inroads have been made with Prescott's American counterparts. He pointed out that it has been very easy to work with the city's new mayor, Jeff Skelly, and with both new and re-elected councilors, and that the two municipalities might be able to prosper together, particularly in the area of tourism.

"The relationship we've established with Ogdensburg here is huge," he said. "Historically, we've had that strong relationship and we've really bolstered that here."

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