BEAVER RIVER - Scott Thompson knows a thing or two about ferrying people across the Stillwater Reservoir in Herkimer County.
After all, he has done it his entire life, as did his father and grandfather, reaching back 60 years.
For 50 years or more, his family's ferry has been the only way to get people in or out of the hamlet of Beaver River. Beaver River residents have depended solely on the ferry to shuttle food, supplies, vehicles and equipment, as well as taking people to doctor's appointments, to go shopping, or even visit the outside world.
No access road to the hamlet has existed since 1876, when the sole pathway was flooded by the state to create the reservoir. Rail service to the hamlet of Beaver River was discontinued in 1949.
Now, the state Department of Environmental Conservation is seeking to prohibit the ferry service from operating, citing that it's illegally using state property.
But the action is likely to strand dozens of local residents, cutting them off from the rest of civilization.
Friday, the Warren County Board of Supervisors approved an emergency measure objecting to DEC's order, issued Nov. 30, that the ferry service be halted permanently.
According to DEC Region 6 spokesman Steve Litwhiler, the Thompsons have been operating their business illegally for decades, using state forest preserve as mooring, loading and unloading areas.
"This involves the private and commercial use of state land, that's the issue," Litwhiler said.
The order, threatening legal action, demanded that all docks immediately removed from the state-owned boat launch.
Private enterprise is not typically allowed on state land, especially forest preserve, Litwhiler said.
The Thompson family has owned and operated the Norridgewock Lodge in Beaver River since the 1940s.
Thompson said that the ferry service accounts for the bulk of his business, transporting not only people and cars, but also municipal trucks and basic supplies for the residents of the 120 seasonal camps in the town of Webb hamlet.
"Beaver River has continued to grow and the public awareness about it has developed some," he said.
In an interview, Thompson described how his father started the ferry about 60 years ago.
"They started a barge service, a wooden raft of sorts, that ran people in and out of Beaver River," he said. "There was no facilities at Beaver River to unload a car or supplies, so they kind of floated things across."
Thompson said that if the ferry service is shut down, his entire business will go under.
Litwhiler said that even in the early days, the Thompsons were in violation since almost all of the land around the reservoir has been designated Forest Preserve since the Preserve was created.
Last week, DEC representatives met with Thompson in an attempt to find a solution.
Thompson said he is hoping to get a temporary easement for the upcoming season. He said that in the long run, he would like to see an amendment to the regional Unit Management Plan to allow the ferry service to continue from the present docking site, or from a substitute location.
Jeff Bishop, a spokesman for state Sen. James Seward, said the state created the problem when flooding the reservoir and it should make some long-term accommodations for the ferry service.
"We have to fix a situation which was created by the state, and end up with a positive outcome," he said.
Thompson agreed that the situation deserves accommodation by the state, particularly since they flooded the reservoir and isolated the community in the first place.
"There are all kinds of private businesses on state land," Thompson said. "A pro shop at a state-owned golf course is a private endeavor, and so is a cafeteria at a state-owned mountain."