A provocative new idea is getting buzz on the Vermont side of Lake Champlain where a new group has formed to study what it would take to intentionally sink a passenger ferry in the lake.
“There’s a lot to it,” said Jonathan Eddy of the Waterfront Diving Center in Burlington, who wants to see a ferry known as The Champlain intentionally sunk.
Eddy told necn he has learned the Lake Champlain Transportation Company is considering retiring the ferry, while relying on other vessels to handle the crossing between Burlington, Vermont and Port Kent, New York.
The idea is in its very earliest stages, with research still underway into logistics, timeline, and cost. There is no specific location in the lake targeted for the sinking, but it would be near the Burlington waterfront, Eddy said.
Eddy said conversations have been going on for roughly a year, and one formal meeting has taken place—with representatives including the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Coast Guard, the City of Burlington, the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, and the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.
“This adds to the legacy of the lake, it doesn’t detract from it,” Eddy said of the idea to sink The Champlain. “It would also help to generate tourism.”
He pointed to tourism because so-called artificial reefs in the ocean are said to attract fish that boost recreational angling.
In the fresh water of Lake Champlain, divers already love exploring preserved shipwrecks, so Eddy predicts a sunken ferry would just add to that underwater playground and draw diving enthusiasts to Burlington.
The Lake Champlain Transportation Company declined to comment for this story at this point, saying things are just too preliminary right now. The company added that it is still looking into all that this idea would require.
“We’ll certainly give the proposal rigorous review,” said Billy Coster, the planning director for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.
Coster said while no formal permit applications have been received yet, the state would ensure any sinking would have to follow rules on protecting water quality, wildlife habitat, and public use.
Coster added that permits would require potential hazards like fuel, paint, and lubricants, to be fully removed from The Champlain. Eddy said glass, doors, wiring, engines, and other components would also have to be stripped before the ferry is thoroughly cleaned for a proposed sinking.
“There’s also opportunities for public comment through that [permitting] process,” Coster noted.
“I have no interest in creating an environmental problem on Lake Champlain,” Eddy said, adding the proponents of the ferry’s sinking want to make sure it would be done correctly because they all care for the lake’s health.
Eddy acknowledged he has a complex job ahead of him, but said he believes if the Champlain does leave service, she shouldn’t be hacked apart and sold for scrap.
Rather, Eddy wants to see The Champlain stay in her namesake waters and used in a new way.