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Saugatuck Ferry seeks new chain ferry operator

Saugatuck Ferry seeks new chain ferry operator

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By Jim Hayden

Correspondent

Wanted: Someone who can crank out top-quality service for customers and keep a community tradition afloat throughout summer.

Apply: Saugatuck City.

Council is seeking proposals to operate its historic hand-cranked chain ferry that crosses the Kalamazoo River and it could mean an increased fare.

“They might not be able to do it for a buck,” said councilman Barry Johnson at Monday’s city council meeting.

Submittals need to include a proposed operating schedule and fare structure to handle the 30,000 to 35,000 passengers per season. A ride across the river now costs $1 for one way.

The request for operating proposals was made possible after a recent change to federal regulations that required a U.S. Coast Guard-licensed captain subject to random drug testing be aboard the vessel that uses a chain and sprocket to float about 300 feet across the water.

The rules changed late last year thanks to action by U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, at the urging of Saugatuck officials who said the regulations were costly and burdensome.

Last summer, the chain ferry had to close the week before the busy Labor Day weekend because no captains were available.

The ferry was previously run by Marilyn Starring, who retired over the summer. In 2018, the city paid Starring $5,775, the same as the 2017 season, to manage the ferry.

The new operator will handle personnel selection and training, maintenance and inspections of the vessel and landing areas. Proposals are due March 22.

Some people have already expressed interest in operating the ferry, according to Mayor Ken Trester.

A chain ferry has been crossing the Kalamazoo River since 1857, according to the Saugatuck-Douglas History Center. The original scow could carry a wagon, team of horses, passengers and automobiles.

The current, smaller-sized ferry was introduced in 1965.