Published August 25. 2011 4:00AM
Lyme — A union concessions deal that passed last week saved the Connecticut River ferries from closure, but the state Department of Transportation will still hold a previously scheduled public information session on ferry service tonight in Chester.
The second of two public meetings - the first was held Monday in Rocky Hill - was originally designed to gather comments on the state's proposal to shutter the two state-operated Connecticut River ferries.
The public information session will be held 6-8 p.m. at the Chester Meeting House, 4 Liberty St., Chester.
The theme has now shifted to how the state can make the Chester-Hadlyme and Rocky Hill-Glastonbury ferries more cost-efficient, said DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick last week.
"The bottom line here is, the ferries will remain open, period," Nursick said. "And the goal, then, becomes how to reduce those operational costs."
The two historic ferries, combined, lose about half a million dollars every year. Whereas the state has been able to absorb those losses until now, Nursick said it no longer had the luxury to continue to do so.
The DOT is open to all ideas, from privatization to partnerships to fare increases, Nursick said.
"We're more than happy to hear any input on this," he said. "Outside the box thinking is welcome."
It has been a roller-coaster summer for the ferries, albeit one with a happy ending for ferry supporters, who loudly voiced their opposition to the proposed closures throughout the summer. Thought to be safe from budget cuts last fall, the ferry crew learned in July that they would be laid off on Aug. 25 as part of thousands of positions Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was eliminating to fill a $1.6 billion hole in the state budget.
State employees' unions voted last week to accept a new concessions deal that will save a majority of the jobs and programs - ferry service included - that Malloy had planned to eliminate.
The Town of Lyme filed a lawsuit in July in an attempt to keep the ferries running, but a state Superior Court judge dismissed that lawsuit on Aug. 4.
New Britain Superior Court Judge Henry S. Cohn said the lawsuit was premature because it requested a stay on a "final decision" that had not yet been made.