ESSEX - Access to health care was the overwhelming concern expressed by area residents at a public meeting to discuss keeping the Essex-Charlotte Ferry crossing open through the winter.
More than 100 supporters gathered at the Essex Firehouse Nov. 10 to express their views. Co-organized by Essex resident Andy Buchanan and facilitated by Assemblywoman Teresa R. Sayward, R-Willsboro, the meeting was joined by Essex Supervisor Sharon Boisen, Vermont State Representative Diane Lanpher as well as Willsboro Supervisor Edward Hatch.
Lake Champlain Transportation president Trey Pecor and operations manager Heather Stewart were invited, but did not participate.
Sayward explained LCT is a private business and said they can conduct business as they see fit. The purpose of the public meeting was to listen, gather information and make suggestions that may not be apparent to LCT. One goal was to figure out who "must" use the ferry versus those that "want" to use the service. The testimony would be compiled and presented to the company in hopes of persuading them to stay open year-round, Sayward said.
Stewart previously stated the ferry would continue to run as long as ice conditions permit. In a recent interview, she said only 150 cars per day used the Essex-Charlotte run.
Numerous people talked of employment issues if the ferry closed. Residents of Vermont and New York commute daily to the other state for their jobs.
Robin Gucker, Keeseville, said closing the ferry changes her children's daily commute to the Lake Champlain Waldorf School in Charlotte from 17 miles to 70 and adds two hours each way to their travels. Afterschool activities and sports are not possible because of the transportation time, she said. Gucker said the school year commuting costs on the ferry were about $3,000 annually, a fee she was glad to pay for the service.
Burlington, Vt. resident Scott McIntyre said his job depends on ferry service and said LCT is a monopoly that should have some government regulation even though it is a private company.
"If the ferry closes down, I can't do my job," he said.
Many people brought up access to the Fletcher Allen Medical Center in Burlington. Some ferry users said those undergoing radiation and chemotherapy can't endure the car ride around the lake after treatment, and others pointed to a local teen in need of dialysis who is able to stay in school because of the ferry run.
All medical transfers to Fletcher Allen from the New York side of the lake are done by ambulance, meeting attendees said, making ferry service imperative in the event of an emergency. The nearest Life Flight service is the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Hanover, N.H.
Like others, Mary-Nell Bockman, of Essex, said she and her husband moved to Essex because of the ferry. Access to jobs in Vermont via the ferry helped them make life choices. When marketing a business, Bockman said, taking care of repeat customers is mission-critical.
Having the ferry available increases traffic, which builds dependency, which increases ferry usage. Closing the ferry will have a negative effect on area businesses, real estate prices and quality of lives, said Essex resident Susan Bacot-Davis.
Sally Johnson, of Burlington and Essex said, "My heart is here. My graveyard is here. I am bitter at the idea of private profit at public expense."
Boisen said Ray Pecor agreed to meet with her and a few other representatives to discuss possibilities for the ferry.
Sayward and Lanpher said they would look into how a private business involved in public transportation might be effected by regulation.
"The long-term success of the community depends upon the ferry," said Buchanan. "This is our 'bridge.' We need it."