Appeal halts scuttling of historic ferry in Lake Champlain

Published: Apr. 29, 2021 at 12:19 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 29, 2021 at 6:13 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Environmental advocates are trying to stop a state permit that would allow for a historic ferry to be sunk in Lake Champlain.

The state approved the scuttling of the vessel with the aim of creating a new dive site and potentially boosting the local economy, but opponents are concerned about the impact on the lake.

“It’s a bad message of stewardship for this lake that we need to protect and care for,” said Lori Fisher, the executive director of the Lake Champlain Committee.

Fisher says it sets a bad precedent to use the former ferry as a dive site when there are other sites available to dive in.

The Adirondack, or “Adi,” was built in 1913 and is owned by the Lake Champlain Transportation Company. There has been an ongoing process to get permits to sink the ship, including rigorous EPA standards to completely scrub the boat and take out all excess materials and potential contaminants

“The preparatory work that the Lake Champlain Transportation company is doing to clean the boat -- and then looking at worst-case scenarios of PCB contamination being below the threshold -- all allowed us to conclude that there are no adverse environmental impacts that we can associate with the project,” said Oliver Pierson of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, which granted the permit.

That decision is now being appealed by environmental organizations that say it won’t benefit enough people.

“This notion that you can one-off these public good permits to use the public water to just dump something or drop something in the lake is not something I ever saw or thought I’d ever see,” said Jon Groveman of the Vermont Natural Resources Council.

Pierson disagrees, saying it follows the statute.

“When we review these lake encroachment permit applications, we need to determine whether a proposed project will adversely affect the public good. So, the project doesn’t need to directly benefit every Vermonter but it must provide a public benefit and it must not adversely affect the public good,” he said.

If sunk, the Adirondack could also bring extra tourism dollars to Burlington with an incredibly unique diving opportunity.

“I think it’s great for the city of Burlington. It’s great for Lake Champlain,” said Jonathan Eddy, the co-owner of the Waterfront Diving Center. “I’ve been doing this a long time and we have a lot of visiting divers that come here now to dive the wrecks of the underwater preserve and this will be a really big draw throughout New England and even beyond.”

In fact, those familiar with the project say it’s actually more expensive for the Lake Champlain Transportation Company to do the work to sink the ferry rather than to just scrap it.

The Adirondack would join nine other ships that are part of the underwater historic preserve. But it would be the only one that divers can truly interact with because it’s newer and more stable.

“There’s just a great love for this resource, I think, so the other option is to scrap it, and it would be completely lost and we would be losing history,” said Laura Trieschmann, the Vermont state historic preservation officer.

A judge’s decision on the permit appeal likely won’t be made for a few months.

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