Environmental groups appeal sinking of old ferry for divers

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — Environmental organizations are appealing a decision to allow a century-old ferry to be sunk in Lake Champlain where it would become an underwater scuba diving destination just off the Burlington waterfront.

The state has approved the sinking of the vessel but environmental advocates are concerned about the impact on the lake, WCAX-TV reported.

“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.

The now-retired ferry “Adirondack,” was constructed in 1913 and first began sailing on Lake Champlain in 1954, traveling between Burlington and Port Kent, New York. The Lake Champlain Transportation Company plans to sink the ferry after it is thoroughly cleaned of all oil, grease and other potential pollutants to become part of an underwater historic preserve that includes nine other vessels.

“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. The department granted the permit.

John Paul, the port engineer for Lake Champlain Transportation, said Sunday they consider the Adirondack to be historically significant and they would like to preserve it in some form.

The cost of scrapping it would be less than half of the estimated $175,000 preservation cost, he said.

“A lot of people don’t think that, they think we just want to get rid of it in an easy way and it’s not easy,” Paul said. “It’s multiple times harder to do it this way.”

Paul said the plan has been approved by both federal and state regulators, but it must still be approved by the city of Burlington.

Environmental groups that are appealing 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.

Jonathan Eddy, the co-owner of the Waterfront Diving Center, in Burlington, said a lot of visiting divers come to dive the wrecks of the underwater preserve. “This will be a really big draw throughout New England and even beyond,” he said.