By Hans Ohanian
– Commentary –
The old retired ferryboat Champlain is now tied up at the south side of the Charlotte ferry landing, its engine yanked out and weeds growing along its gunnels. The old lady deserves a better end than this. Built in 1930, she crisscrossed the lake for almost 100 years and occasionally served as a charter cruise boat.
The Lake Champlain Transportation Company is eager to be rid of the hulk but has run out of ideas of what to do. Last year there was a proposal to sink the hulk at the Burlington waterfront, outside the harbor, to serve as a playground for scuba divers. By scattering 40 silver dollars in and around the hulk, you could probably attract scuba divers in droves. But this plan fell through over protests that the wreck would cause pollution of the water (a somewhat odd concern, given that the outlet for all the sewage produced by Burlington is not far from the harbor).
So, how about leaving the hulk where it is and converting it into a floating restaurant at the Charlotte ferry landing? Vermont is surprisingly deficient in sites for waterfront dining, and the large car deck of the Champlain, fully covered by the upper deck, but with large picture windows at both sides, seems custom-made as a splendid site for sunset dining, with the lake and the Adirondacks as a backdrop.
A kitchen could be installed in the empty engine room (no risk of kitchen fires, the walls are all steel). The fuel tank could serve as a holding tank for kitchen and other sewage, to be transferred once a week to a barge and taken to the sewage treatment plant at the Burlington waterfront. Potable water from the water plant in Shelburne Bay could be brought in by another barge. And the suite of rooms on the upper level of the Champlain could be converted into a luxurious waterfront apartment for short or long-term rental, which would create a nice cash flow to cover the docking fees that would have to be paid to LCTC.
The ferry-landing location, with a steady stream of cars arriving and departing, would provide a steady stream of restaurant patrons. Parking for diners might be a problem, but perhaps the existing ferry parking lot could be expanded and some nearby field could be converted for parking. No problem with wetlands.
So what are we waiting for? All we need is an investor, or a consortium of investors, with vision and a bit of ready money. Senator Leahy would probably be willing to contribute a million or two of federal grants for the laudable purpose of preserving the Champlain as a historical artifact (after his F-35 fiasco he might well feel he owes Vermonters something; and we can offer to rename the Champlain the Leahy Culinary Welcome Center).
Or maybe we could exploit the coming windfall of federal COVID grants. Better than spending this windfall on another underpass extravaganza for wayward chickens to cross the road.
Hope to see you for sunset dinner at the ferry landing in Spring 2022, after COVID is really, really over.