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November 06, 2009

Hatton Ferry’s future requires a non-profit owner

Reader comments (2) By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, November 6, 2009

The future of the nation’s only remaining pole-driven ferry depends on whether the Albemarle County Historical Society or another non-profit is willing to take on its ownership. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has established a December 31 deadline for the ferry to be transferred to another entity. Otherwise it will be closed.

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Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20091104-BOS-Hatton-Ferry


Hatton-ferry-pic

The ferry is under the jurisdiction of VDOT in part because it carries vehicles across the James River (Source: Steven Meeks)

The Hatton Ferry first began crossing the James River upstream from Scottsville in the late 1870’s. Every year from April to October, ferrymen use poles to push the boat guided by a cable that spans the river. The state highway department  took over operations of the ferry in 1940.

VDOT announced this summer it could no longer fund the ferry due to budget cuts. In July, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors agreed to contribute $9,300 to keep the ferry operating throughout this year. However, the historical society was charged with coming up with funds not only to repay the County, but also to ensure funding for next season.

The man in charge of the current fundraising efforts  for the ferry’s continued operations told the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday that if the Hatton Ferry is closed, a piece of American history will be lost forever. E. Marshall Pryor III appealed for the County’s financial support.

“If we don’t get some participation from the community, from the Board of Supervisors and other municipalities, [the ferry] can’t go on forever,” Pryor said.

Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier (Scottsville) suggested the creation of a public-private partnership where donations would be matched by County dollars. He said the ferry should charge riders, which would bring in revenue either for the County or a non-profit organization that would run the ferry.

“I think Albemarle County along with Buckingham County and Scottsville can come up with $10,000 or $20,000,” Dorrier said.

Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) said he was skeptical that money could be found when the County faces a significant budget shortfall in the current year.

However, Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna) agreed with Dorrier.

“In a $307 million budget, I think we can find $10,000,” Boyd said. He said one possibility might be to use  money from the Acquisition of Conservation Easements (ACE) program because the ferry promotes the rural nature of the community. Staff was directed to come back with suggestions of what budget items could be cut to pay for the ferry.

Pryor said his group has not yet submitted any grant proposals to fund the ferry, but has raised around $20,000 through private contributions. That’s enough to pay for the ferry for next season, which he said will be the 140th anniversary of the ferry. Pryor estimated that at least $700,000 will need to be raised in order to ensure it can operate “in perpetuity.”

Download Download an October 28 letter from VDOT Commissioner David Ekern to Bob Tucker

However, VDOT’s end-of-year deadline for a decision is looming, forcing the Society to scramble to establish a long-term plan.

Under state law, VDOT cannot transfer ownership directly to a non-profit organization. Instead, either Albemarle, Buckingham or the Town of Scottsville would need to receive the ferry from the state before it could be transferred to a non-profit.

Hatton-ferry-pic2 (Source: Steven Meeks)
County Attorney Larry Davis said Albemarle cannot run the ferry itself because localities do not have the authority to operate a ferry without specific enabling legislation. He said the best way to operate the ferry would be to transfer it to a non-profit organization. However, Davis was concerned that complications could arise if the County serves as the intermediary.

“If the County is the middle person for this, there may be the expectation that the County will be there with deep pockets to keep it operating,” Davis said.

Steven Meeks, President of the Albemarle County Historical Society, said his Board of Directors has discussed taking over management of the ferry, but has not formally adopted a position.

“We’re very interested in possibly managing it,” Meeks said. In a follow-up interview, Meeks said he needed to research the costs of liability insurance as well as the legalities of the transfer.  He added that he is optimistic he can put together a proposal in time for the next Board of Supervisors meeting on December 2, 2009. 











TIMELINE FOR PODCAST

  • 0:57 – Public comment from E. Marshall Pryor
  • 04:10 – Public comment from Steven Meeks, President of the Albemarle County Historical Society
  • 7:49 – Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier suggests instituting a public-private partnership where the County could contribute matching funds
  • 8:00 – Supervisor David Slutzky asks where this money will come from
  • 9:31 – Dorrier says Hatton Ferry could make money back by charging fee for use
  • 10:37 – Supervisor Dennis Rooker expresses budget concerns
  • 11:22 – Slutzky says that he doesn’t want fees and taxes to be raised
  • 12:35 – Supervisor Ken Boyd agrees with Dorrier that the money can be found somewhere in budget
  • 13:13 – Boyd suggests taking money out of the ACE (Acquisition of Conservation Easements) Program to fund the ferry
  • 13:30 – County Administrator Bob Tucker says that staff could attempt to identity places in the budget where funds could be cut
  • 14:55 – Rooker says VA Film Festival pays off the investment from County and is interested in studying the rate of return for the ferry
  • 15:45 – Dorrier wants Buckingham County and Scottsville to contribute to the ferry too
  • 20:48 – Slutzky says he appreciates the efforts to keep the ferry operating, but doesn’t want to mislead the public by building hopes for something that might not happen
  • 21:28 – Tucker talks about letter from VDOT which warns that the ferry would be discontinued by the end of the year
  • 24:55 – Tucker says that VDOT can’t legally transfer their assets to non-profit, so County would have to act as middleman in this transfer
  • 26:13 – County Attorney Larry Davis says County does not have the proper enabling authority to operate a ferry
  • 31:45 – Davis says that there are no non-profits that have come forward who want to operate the ferry without financial assistance, and if the County acts as a middleman, it could create the impression that the County financially backs the ferry
  • 32:21 – Supervisor Sally Thomas says that any non-profit who receives the ferry would assume full responsibility
  • 33:34  - Meeks says that the Historical Society Board hasn’t formally adopted a position on whether they want the ferry
  • 34:44 – Slutzky asks Meeks to get Historical Society Board to adopt a position quickly so the Board can act at their December 2nd meeting if necessary

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