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Support for ferry service called for

PLATTSBURGH — Concerned about a disruption in vital transportation services, the North Country Chamber of Commerce is calling for state and federal governments to support full Lake Champlain Ferry service during the current emergency.

“Because of shutdowns and travel limitations, traffic on the Lake Champlain Ferries is down significantly,” Garry Douglas, chamber president, said in a news release.

“The drop in business has already led to suspension of the Essex-Charlotte ferry and a reduction in frequency at the Plattsburgh-Grand Isle crossing. The company is doing what it can to sustain operations but given how crucial the connection is, we need to be concerned.”

The change in ferry service is one of many due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Douglas said that without the Grand Isle ferry, all travel between the Plattsburgh and Burlington areas would take an hour or more of added time.

“This poses serious impacts on health care, given the high integration of health care systems, including most of our hospitals, in the Champlain Valley,” he said.

Douglas said that in 2019, there were 1,700 transfers by ferry between northern New York hospitals and University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington.

It is also estimated by the University of Vermont Health Network that approximately 130 patients travel independently by ferry to medical appointments across the lake each day.

They also estimate that some 160 providers, nurses and other hospital employees commute by ferry each day.

Town of Plattsburgh Supervisor Michael Cashman also said the ferry service, which operates in his town, is too important to be scaled back.

“I echo the chamber’s concerns. The ferries are a vital part of our community’s ability to connect to our region’s health care network,” Cashman said.

“When and if an emergency arises, time is of the essence. I implore the Lake Champlain Ferries to ensure their essential service provides seamless transportation especially during this trying time. We can afford nothing less.”

Douglas said that the Chamber has notified the Governor’s office and the New York State Transportation Department of the situation, requesting urgent attention.

North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, and New York’s U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirstin Gillibrand have also been notified in the context of upcoming federal assistance now being defined for essential services.

The North Country’s state Legislators have also been contacted.

“We need Grand Isle ferry service sustained and Essex ferry service restored, and look forward to a positive response,” Douglas said.