December 14, 2019

Towns Agree to Explore Legal Route to “Save The Ferries”

The towns of Lyme, Chester and East Haddam have agreed to explore whether to seek a court injunction to bar the state Department of Transportation (DOT) from closing the Connecticut River ferries.

The inter-town agreement was announced by Lyme First Selectman Ralph Eno and East Haddam First Selectman Mark Walter Sunday evening at a “Save the Ferries” meeting at Hadlyme Public Hall.

About 125 local supporters of the Chester-Hadlyme and Rocky Hill-Glastonbury ferries cheered the announcement and went on to work on plans to galvanize public opinion to convince the state to keep the ferries running.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation (DOT) has scheduled the closing of the ferries for next month.  All eight employees of both ferries received termination notices from DOT last week as part of Governor Malloy’s lay-off of more than 6,000 employees in order to balance the state budget after pubic employee unions rejected a revised contract designed to save the state $1.6 billion.

Eno explained that the DOT will be violating two state laws by following through on its plans to shutter the ferry service.

The first is a section of the state Transportation Law that requires DOT to “maintain and operate” both of the ferries, he said. ( See Sec. 13a-252 detailed below.)

The second is the section of the Transportation Law regarding sections of the state highways officially designated as “scenic roadways.” The Chester-Hadlyme Ferry is part of Rte. 148, and the Rocky Hill-Glastonbury Ferry is part of Rte. 160.  The routes of both ferries are incorporated into sections of both highways designated by the state DOT as “scenic roads.”  (See Sec. 13b-31d  detailed below.)

Eno pointed out that Transportation Law prohibits any alternation of a state highway designated as a “scenic road” without publication of notice of such changes and providing a period for the public to “comment” on the proposed changes.

Eno and Walter said their plan is to team up with other towns – Chester, Glastonbury and Rocky Hill – to seek a court order barring the DOT from closing the ferries based on these two state statutes.

Eno said the Lyme Board of Selectmen will meet today (July 18) with the town attorney to decide whether to seek such a court order.

Both State Senator Eileen Daily (D-33rd) and State Representative Philip Miller(D-36th) told the ferry supporters that they hope the state employee unions will reconsider their rejection of the contract changes so that the Governor can rescind the lay-off notices.  Both urged the ferry supporters to continue their efforts to convince the Malloy administration to maintain ferry service.

The meeting was sponsored by Hadlyme Public Hall.  The organizers outlined plans to reach out to ferry users and others locally and across the state to communicate support for the ferries to the Malloy administration.

Those who would like to help can contact the organizers at hadlymehall@gmail.com or call Humphrey Tyler at 518-253-4844 .

Sec. 13a-252. Certain ferries to be operated by state. Fees. Rocky Hill ferry deemed a state historic structure. (a) The ferries crossing the Connecticut River, known as the Rocky Hill ferry and the Chester and Hadlyme ferry, shall be maintained and operated by the Commissioner of Transportation at the expense of the state. The rates of toll or the charges to be made for travel upon said ferries shall be fixed by the commissioner with the approval of the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management. The commissioner may establish a discounted commuter rate for travel upon said ferries.

      (b) All expense of maintenance, repairs and operation of said ferries shall be paid by the Comptroller on vouchers of the commissioner. The commissioner shall include in his report to the General Assembly a report of the receipts and expenditures incidental to the control and maintenance of said ferries. Said Rocky Hill ferry shall be maintained as a state historic structure and shall be so marked with an appropriate plaque by the commissioner in cooperation with the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism.

Sec. 13b-31d. Alteration or improvement of scenic road. Prior to altering or improving a state highway or portion thereof that has been designated a scenic road, pursuant to section 13b-31c, the Commissioner of Transportation shall cause to be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the municipality or municipalities in which such scenic road is located, a notice describing the alteration or improvement. There shall be a comment period following the public notice during which interested persons may submit written comments.

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