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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Whatever Happened To The Stow-Bemus Point Ferry ...

Officials Upset Over Ferry Hours Of OperationBy PATRICK L. FANELLISTOW — Ellery resident John Cheney remembers what it was like in the old days.He said the Stow-Bemus Point Ferry once ran all day every day, from ‘‘ice out to ice in,’’ allowing motorists a nostalgic route across the Narrows of Chautauqua Lake.Nowadays, pedestrians are more likely to find the ferry out of operation during the summer months, making the Veterans Memorial Bridge — which is closed to bicyclists and travelers on foot — the only way to cross during much of the summer months.‘‘It’s upsetting to me that it’s not running,’’ said Cheney, who worked the ferry in one way or another for as long as he could remember until just a few years ago. ‘‘There’s no reason it can’t be running.’’According to Sally Carlson, North Harmony supervisor, the ferry only operated on weekends last year, and the reason for the substantial cut in hours of operation remains unclear.Also unclear is the ferry’s fate, and what’s in store for residents and vacationers this summer.‘‘I know there’s a great deal of interest in getting it running again,’’ Mrs. Carlson said.The ferry operates under the Chautauqua County Historic Vessels Company and the Sea Lion Project, a non-profit organization that was much more active 15 years ago — days when a group of members fought with the board of directors for control of the organization after a dispute over the Sea Lion vessel.Now, it’s unclear who board members even are.‘‘The board changed hands so many times,’’ said Roger Miller, a Stow resident who lives adjacent to the ferry. ‘‘The last time someone asked who the board members were, he gave them some names and they went to talk to those board members, and they didn’t even know that they were board members.’’The ‘‘he’’ Miller refers to is Jim Loutzenheiser, the only name that pops up among residents and officials when asked who runs the organization. Multiple phone calls to Loutzenheiser’s residence went unanswered last week.Like Cheney, Miller is concerned over the future of the ferry.‘‘It operated quite well until about six years ago,’’ he said.Mrs. Carlson is also concerned over the ferry’s fate. At a recent meeting of the North Harmony Town Board, town officials asked their district’s county legislator — Frank ‘‘Jay’’ Gould, R-District 19 — to take the matter to Mayville.At issue is a legal agreement between Chautauqua County and the Historic Vessels Company dated May 12, 1998. In exchange for operating the ferry ‘‘on a regular basis from Memorial Day through Labor Day,’’ the company was given ownership over the ferry and the property in Stow and Bemus Point.To officials and residents, however, the ferry’s limited operation is not ‘‘regular,’’ thus breaching the agreement.‘‘That’s why we feel they should enforce it,’’ Mrs. Carlson said.Miller said the ferry once operated ‘‘quite well’’ under the leadership of residents such as Cheney, turning a profit even after the Veterans Memorial Bridge became an alternative. He said it’s unfortunate since so many people come to use the ferry for the nostalgia of the experience.‘‘I had one guy come here, and he had his grandmother with him, and the ferry was closed,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s the biggest ball of wax you’ve ever seen.’’


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