By Sarah Hogsed
Register News Writer
The Valley View Ferry that connects Madison, Fayette and Jessamine counties will begin limiting its weekday hours of operation and end weekend service June 29.
The problem? Inability to find and hire qualified captains.
The no-toll ferry’s new hours will be from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. It currently is operates from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends.
Madison Fiscal Court Magistrate and Valley View Ferry Authority Chair Roger Barger made the announcement Thursday morning jointly with Jessamine Fiscal Court Magistrate and Ferry Authority Vice Chair George Dean.
One of the ferry’s two captains has put in his notice, and after June 29, only one captain will be employed by the authority.
U.S. Coast Guard regulations require that captains work no more than 12 hours a day, Dean said.
The ferry transports an average of 350 vehicles a day, and in the past fiscal year, about 110,000 vehicles made the trip over the Kentucky River. It is the second busiest ferry in the state, according to Dean.
Barger said he realizes bicyclists, motorcyclists and sightseers enjoy using the ferry on the weekends, especially in the summer, but the authority had to put the area’s commuters first.
“We felt it’s more important to provide (service) for the workforce,” Barger said.
The ferry is funded by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet with contributions from the fiscal courts of Madison, Jessamine and Fayette counties. The state pays the largest chunk – $180,000 annually– while each of the counties contributes $25,000 per year.
The Valley View Ferry Authority meets at 6 p.m. on the second Wednesday of each month at rotating locations in the three counties. The authority is made up of two representatives from Jessamine County, two from Fayette County and three from Madison County.
Difficulty hiring qualified captains
All captains who operate ferries, whether it’s a rural one like the Valley View Ferry or the busy Staten Island Ferry in New York City, must be qualified and licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard. Candidates go through extensive training and background checks that usually cost more than $2,000 altogether.
Barger and Dean said they do not believe ferries that operate on cables and have no steering capabilities, like the Valley View Ferry, should be subject to these regulations that have become stricter under homeland security concerns.
“Regulations like this are a burden on operations like ours,” Dean said.
“The restrictions on our help is killing us,” Barger agreed. He added that ferry authority members have no problem with boat safety regulations that also are administered by the Coast Guard.
The ferry authority has contacted U.S. Rep. Andy Barr’s office as well as Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. Brett Guthrie. Dean said Barr is interested in drafting legislation to change Coast Guard regulations so Valley View and other rural ferries can hire unlicensed people, or reduce or expedite licensing requirements.
The ferry authority has been advertising for a captain since January. But, it has had no luck finding a local, licensed captain who is willing to work for a wage that is about three times lower than what’s paid to towboat operators on the Ohio River, Dean said.
Dean and Barger declined to disclose the salary paid to Valley View Ferry captains and added it was based on longevity in the job.
The ferry authority has been able to hire a person close by who has most of the required experience but will need 90 days of training at Valley View and then must go through the Coast Guard application process to qualify for the license exam.
The ideal staffing level for Valley View is three captains and one to two part-time captains, Barger said. Right now, if Captain Will Horn takes leave for illness or anything else, the ferry cannot run, Barger said.