[This article was published in the August 25, 2011 edition of The Rare Reminder.  For a PDF of the print version of this story, please click here.]

Along with the Connecticut Department of Transportation (DOT), state Rep. Antonio Guerrera invited citizens to discuss fundraising measures for the Rocky Hill-Glastonbury and Chester-Hadlyme ferries at a public hearing held Monday at the Rocky Hill Town Hall.

DOT Acting Commissioner James Redeker reassured the audience that the Rocky Hill-Glastonbury ferry would not be shut down early this season, and currently has enough funding to keep running through June 2013.  The ferry costs $246,000 to run yearly, and brings in $41,888 to the general fund.

Redeker also pledged his personal support to the save-the-ferry efforts.

“When you’re ready for the first check, let me know and I’ll write it,” Redeker told Paul Carr, leader of the efforts to privatize ferry service by forming a nonprofit group called Friends of the Connecticut River Ferries.

Many citizens in the audience spoke about saving the Rocky Hill-Glastonbury ferry as a piece of living history.  The ferry has been in continuous service since 1649.

The meeting evolved from an informational hearing into a brainstorming session for lawmakers and area residents alike, as both the commission and the audience discussed ways to increase the ferries’ visibility, raise enough money to keep the ferry service running, and prevent the service from facing closure in the future.

Among the most popular suggestions were “Save the Ferry” license plates, commemorative merchandise, and a citizen task force to work in conjunction with the DOT.  Redeker began taking names and email addresses for the task force immediately, apparently moved by the spirited response from the audience.

Audience members were effusive in their praise, cheering and laughing in appreciate of comments they liked.  In particular, retired ferry captain Robert Bergsten received several rounds of applause.

“Let’s hire some volunteers to work the decks, and that would free up more licensed mariners to captain the ferries,” Bergsten said as he gestured to the ferry captains who joined him at the meeting.  “Between the licensed mariners present, we have close to 200 years of experience combined.”

Bergsten also suggested using the ferry revenues to offset its expenses instead of allowing the money to be put into the general fund.

At the end of the night, participants were in high spirits, crowding around Redeker to sign up for the citizen task force.

Rocky HIll Mayor Anthony LaRosa said, “We all thought this would be a terrible meeting but you’ve brought us some very good news.”

But Guerrera offered a less enthusiastic opinion of the situation.  He said, “You all need to remember that the Commissioner Redeker takes his orders from the governor.  It’s not easy.  It’s been a brutal budget session this year, and we’re still trying to make sure we balance this pendulum.”

Rocky Hill Town Manager Barbara Gilbert phrased it more lightly, warning audience members not to be lulled into a false sense of security and encouraging citizens to keep the ferry foremost in their minds.

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