- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 8, 2006

CRISFIELD, Md. — It’s quiet in Patty Ward’s antiques shop across from Crisfield’s city dock. The summer tourist season is over, most of the crab and oyster processing houses have shut down, and there’s not much life in the self-proclaimed seafood capital of the world.

So more business would be nice at the Weathered Porch antiques store. But Mrs. Ward, who also lives in Crisfield, isn’t sold on a proposed car ferry between her hometown and Reedville, Va. What would it cost? What if people drove off the ferry and right out of town, not stopping at local shops and restaurants? How would sleepy Crisfield change?

“If it’s just going to be a pass-through, it’s not an advantage,” Mrs. Ward said of the ferry, which has been discussed for more than 80 years.

After years of study, the Virginia-Maryland ferry is still more of an idea than a proposal. The number of boats, possible ridership and how much the ferry would cost have yet to be determined. Another feasibility study was completed in August, then officials in Crisfield and Northumberland County, Va., expressed doubts about who would pay for the ferry.

In Crisfield, opinions are mixed. Some fear a ferry would bring traffic jams. Others say the city’s survival hinges on it, now that the seafood industry has mostly withered away. Only one seafood processor remains on the waterfront, surrounded by condominiums where once crab pickers worked the docks.

“The only thing it can do is bring us more business,” said Diane McGonigle, co-owner of Sidestreet Seafood restaurant. Business this year is down 20 percent, and a lone couple occupied the bar on a recent day. “I think it’s a good idea.”

The restaurant’s other owner, Sam Lambrou, is more blunt about how badly he thinks Crisfield needs a ferry.

“You can’t even get a cup of coffee after 5.” he said. “It’s pretty much a dead town.”

Not all are convinced the ferry is a good idea. At a town planning meeting to discuss yet another ferry proposal, Mayor Percy Purnell questioned businessmen who pitched the ferry.

“I got concerns, guys,” he told the ferry committee after he was asked to lend the town’s name to an environmental study. Mr. Purnell said just days before that Northumberland County officials voted to reject investing in the ferry.

He also said Crisfield’s entire budget is $3 million a year.

Growth is no small worry for Mr. Purnell. He was elected in June, over a 16-year incumbent, largely because of voter unrest about future waterfront development.

Members of the town council were concerned, too. The ferry would stop on an abandoned dock behind a shuttered seafood processor, now fenced off and rusting. It’s not clear how much the city would have to pay for the ferry and a new terminal.

“I need to have a lot more information than I have,” Councilman Kimberly Lawson said.

Similar fears arose in Northumberland County, where county officials voted Sept. 14 not to commit more local taxes to a ferry, said county Administrator Kenneth Eades.


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