ASHTABULA — The director of the Ashtabula Maritime and Surface Transportation Museum is doing his best to revive interest in a Lake Erie ferry service that would link northeast Ohio and Canada.
Museum Director Bob Frisbie is sending a letter to the editor of the Canadian newspaper, “The Lake Erie Beacon,” pleading his case for the ferry service with Port Stanley, Ontario. He believes Norfolk-Southern Railroad’s former coal dock is the perfect place to set up business.
“Now that we have all this vacant land here in our harbor, we might be able to use it to park loaded, unloaded trucks, tourist vehicles and possibly shipping containers,” he said. “There is a gate and fencing at the front of this dock today, along with what is probably a quarter of a mile of empty dock along the property and along the Ashtabula River for easy parking.”
When the topic arose nearly 10 years ago, the Canadian government was leery of the idea, citing security and other border issues. Proponents of the ferry say it would provide a cheaper and speedier alternative for commercial and passenger vehicles traveling to and from Canada.
Frisbie, who is a historian by avocation, said in the early 1900s, the New York Central “Car Ferry Maitland” transported rail cars between Ashtabula and Port Maitland, Ontario.
“If ferry service returned to Ashtabula, many of our passengers would take round-trip voyages to attend hockey, baseball and basketball games,” he said. “This area has been dredged so a ferry wouldn’t be a problem.”
City Manager Jim Timonere said he would support it. He worked on getting a ferry in Ashtabula several years ago, when he worked for the Chamber of Commerce.
“From what I recall there was a small piece of federal legislation that needed to be modified to make this happen,” he said. “The thought back then was a ferry service for not only tourism, but for hauling truck trailers.”
At that time, there were issues with Homeland Security and truckers crossing over the Canadian border.
“If there were small items on their driving records or other negative information in their history, there were times the cargo could be held up for days in customs,” he said. “(If a ferry carried a truck trailer), the trailer could be brought to port, unhooked and then sent to Canada to be picked up by another truck and delivered.”
Timonere said ferry service would be a huge opportunity to continue to improve the city’s tourism industry.
“It would be a wonderful ride over, lake conditions dependent, and would attract even more people to our area,” he said. “I would definitely support such a project as I did when it was first discussed.”
Frisbie said he became inspired to push for the ferry service after seeing so many “things happening right here in Ashtabula,” including the new River Bend Hotel planned for Goodwill Drive, the Petmin project, park improvements, the Greenway Trail and the Maritime Museum’s plans to build a 7,000-square-foot addition.
Ashtabula City Council President John Roskovics believes ferry service is a great idea.
“I feel this would benefit the area in so many positive ways,” he said. “I imagine this would be a major undertaking. I wish we would look at things like increased rail travel, high speed rails, ferry and water transport as playing a bigger part of our future.