Exclusive look at Spirit of Ethan Allen III engine upgrade

Published: May. 13, 2020 at 4:48 AM EDT
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A popular excursion boat is now chugging across Lake Champlain with some new parts. Our Christina Guessferd took an exclusive tour of the new and improved Spirit of Ethan Allen III.

It was a five-and-a-half month endeavor replacing gas-guzzling engines with new energy-efficient diesel models.

The vessel's owner, Mike Shea, says the new engines emit 95% less pollution.

"We used to blow out black smoke, now we just don't blow any smoke," Shea said.

That's tons of exhaust no longer pouring into the Burlington Harbor Marina.

In October 2019, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation's Diesel Emissions Reduction Program awarded $268,000 of the $700,000 total price tag to replace the four unregulated diesel engines, with four state-of-the-art ones.

"I knew that we weren't helping the environment, and everybody loves Vermont and cares about the environment, so I wanted to do my piece because all that pollution that was going out into the air, it just wasn't right," said Shea.

Our Christina Guessferd has been following the project's progress since January as a crew worked diligently to meet a May deadline. They completely transformed the first deck to make room for the new machines and take out the old ones.

Large cutouts in the concrete replaced decadent décor. Shea says the engines will provide a significant source of savings, using far less fossil fuel for about a 50% cut in consumption.

This season, the cruise tickets will be a couple dollars more, but Shea says after monitoring the cost of maintenance this year, he hopes to bring the price back down by the next.

"If I can lower the price and not raise it, I'm happy," he said.

The U.S. Coast Guard gave them the greenlight to get back on the water this weekend. The first excursions of the season will be this Saturday.

In compliance with Gov. Phil Scott's orders, they will not be serving food or drink, and they're only allowing 10 people per separated deck area for a total of 40 people on board at a time.

"Right now, we're focusing on how we can bring the people on meeting the governor's requirements and have the sanitary procedures. We're in our ninth day of training all new sanitary procedures just so when we come on here, people come on here, they'll feel safe and comfortable aboard the ship," said Shea.