Lyme lawsuit argues historic ferries' case

Lyme - Closing the Chester-Hadlyme and Rocky Hill-Glastonbury ferries as part of state budget-cutting would violate two state laws, the town argued in a lawsuit filed in New Britain Superior Court Friday.

The lawsuit seeks to suspend the layoffs of the eight state employees who operate the historic ferries. The layoffs are scheduled to take effect Aug. 25, but the ferries are expected to stop running by Aug. 11, to give the workers time to mothball the vessels before their last day.

In a statement emailed Friday afternoon, First Selectman Ralph Eno said the East Haddam Board of Selectmen had already voted to join the lawsuit, and that Rocky Hill is expected to do the same. A hearing sponsored by a state legislator is scheduled for Monday in Glastonbury, Eno said.

East Haddam First Selectman Eric Walter said Friday that the purpose of the court action is to delay the planned ferry closure long enough for state employees to work out a new concessions deal with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. Once the layoffs are rescinded, the ferry service could continue in operation.

The basic argument of the lawsuit is that the state is required by state law to maintain and operate the ferry service. Another law requires that the state cannot make changes in scenic roads without public notice and a public comment period, neither of which took place. The lawsuit contends that the Chester-Hadlyme ferry is part of Route 148, named a scenic road in 2003, and the Rocky Hill-Glastonbury ferry is part of Route 160, designated a scenic road in 1991.

"It's up to the state to maintain the transportation infrastructure, and the ferries are a key part of getting across the river," Walter said. "They're also a key component of tourism.

"The ferries are not the reason the state is in this position," he added.

Offer of help

In a separate development, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals this week offered to pay to place banners on the ferries that would read: "Throw animals a lifeline. Go vegan. PETA." Revenues from the ads could be used to help keep the ferries operating, PETA said in a letter sent Wednesday to Malloy and acting DOT Commissioner James Redeker.

"One of our staff saw this as a way to help the community and help animals at the same time," PETA spokeswoman Ashley Palmer said Friday.

PETA has gotten involved in similar ways in other communities, she said, such as by paying a financially strapped Florida town to place a banner at a dog park advocating spaying and neutering of pets.

Palmer said PETA has not yet received a response from Malloy's office or the DOT. Issues such as the rate PETA would pay and the length of time the banners would be posted would have to be negotiated as part of an agreement between the organization and the state, she said.

David Bednarz, spokesman for Malloy, had no comment Friday on PETA's proposal.

Judd Everhart, DOT's director of communications, said DOT has received the letter and is formulating a response.

"Allowing advertising on DOT equipment and property is not a new idea," he said. "There are numerous ads on our trains, buses and at Bradley Airport. But no decision has been made on advertising on the ferries."

One key supporter of saving the ferries, Humphrey Tyler of Lyme, said Friday that "all reasonable suggestions" for generating revenue for the ferries should be considered. He noted that there are already racks aboard the Chester-Hadlyme ferry with brochures about area attractions.

"But it would be up to the DOT," he said. If a decision were made to allow advertising, the DOT would then have to decide what messages are appropriate, he added.

Tyler is a member of the Save the Ferry Committee, a group based out of the Hadlyme Public Hall. About 125 people turned out to a meeting the group hosted on Sunday, he said. The committee also has a Facebook page.

j.benson@theday.com

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