Aledo learns about Ferryboat progress

Cathy Decker/Staff reporter

Larry McHenry of New Boston made a presentation on the ILLOWA Ferryboat and Development Corporation (ILLOWA) to Aledo City Council Monday, July 20. Aledo, has signed on as a supporter of ILLOWA, along with Louisa County, Iowa, Wapello, Iowa, Oakville, Iowa, Mercer County and New Boston.

McHenry is secretary of ILLOWA and said the organization is made up of volunteers. He said one of the corporate duties is to keep its supporters informed about what is going on with the goal of bringing in a ferryboat on the Mississippi between New Boston and Oakville.

He said that the ferryboat task force talked to a number of ferryboat operators, some private and some run by a government body. The city of Cassville, Wis., operates a ferryboat, that had been run by a private individual. One day the ferryboat was gone. To remedy the problem Cassville purchased its own boat and hired an operator.

To avoid that problem Hickman, Ky. - Dorena, Mo. Mississippi River ferryboat set up the Mississippi County, Missouri Port Authority, which owns the boat and hires an operator who brings in the crew to operate the ferryboat.

"Lesson number one: Own your own boat," said McHenry.

McHenry said he talked to former ferryboat operators who worked out of New Boston years ago. Both Norman Baggett and Hartzell O'Dell were owners of the New Boston Ferryboat at different times. "It was determined that a deep water site was needed."

Both operators confirmed that the US Army Corps of Engineers (USCOE) had in the past hired contractors to dredge the Mississippi River and place the spoils in areas that, when subject to flooding, would wash into the existing ferryboat landing site. This practice "had fallen on deaf ears," said McHenry.

He said that USCOE didn't take the Ferry Boat Task Force seriously because it had no official government backing.

"Lesson number two: Locate a deep water site and set up a government sponsored entity to work with the Corps of Engineers," said McHenry.

McHenry talked about the formation of ILLOWA Ferryboat and Development Corporation. He said the group needed to develop rules that would protect all the governing entities from ILLOWA making any decisions or obligations that could put any of the government entities in financial jeopardy.

He said that ILLOWA is making a clarification to its memorandum of understanding with protections for the six government entities. "Nothing in the agreement compels or obligates the parties to further financial contributions, nor can the committee compel a member to make additional financial contributions. ... In addition the parties recognize that additional contributions as agreed between the parties and the committee may be required."

There is no obligation to make additional payments, McHenry said.

McHenry also spoke about political maneuverings between Congressman Jim Leach's office and the Corps of Engineers, who told ILLOWA they would be required to have an environmental assessment done. Jim Leach tacked on a $250,000 to $300,000 figure to a transportation bill in 2004.

In 2005 $300,000 in federal funds were appropriated for environmental and archaeological study, which were then reduced after Katrina. The state of Iowa provided matching funds of $60,000 and Illinois provided $40,000 to complete the study.

At this time both the Iowa and Illinois DOT became participants in the project bringing a whole new set of rules to the table. Besides an environmental assessment, an environmental impact statement and National Environmental Policy Act compliance was needed. "It became clear that there was not near enough money to even do the environmental impact statement," he added.

He said that Stanley Consultants of Muscatine just completed a major investment study and financial feasibility and sustainability plan in April.

The operating plan for a ferry estimates that there would be on average 65 fares per day, at $12 per car. The ferryboat season would be Memorial Day to Labor Day running Wednesdays through Sundays. The operating costs would be higher than what the fares would provide, with a $6,000 to $7,000 shortfall annually. There are possible other funding sources such as Iowa Transit Authority or Illinois Transit Assistance or Illinois Ferryboat assistance.

McHenry said ILLOWA is at the point of exploring its options and plans to talk with legislators. "Before we do that we must inform our bosses, the six entities, Aledo, Wapello, New Boston, Louisa County and Mercer County, of the progress and get direction on whether or not to continue."