public transport service by airboat


By Jeri Packer | Voice Staff Writer
Published Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ice jams forcing Champion’s Auto Ferry to shut down for days at a time may have less impact on residents this year, should this winter bring a repeat of last season’s troubles.

Dave Bryson 2007


The Clay Township board passed a resolution Sept. 7 to enter into an inter-local agreement with the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority. The authority oversees security of the Detroit River System under the direction of U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Under the agreement, Clay Township will gain the use of two spacious air boats acquired by the authority.

The agreement gives both entities limited authority to “plan, operate, or cause to be operated public transportation services on or adjacent to the Detroit River System, inclusive of the township boundary and Lake St. Clair or its immediate adjacent waterways and necessary to the operation of public transportation services as to ‘ice capable’ air boats only.”

It also enables Clay and the port authority to work together toward securing federal and state funding for related items, such as navigation equipment, docks and radios.

Clay Township trustee Joanne Shirkey said the new air boats will be a welcome addition in the event of a future ice jam. Last year, the ferry was shut down several times as U. S. Coast Guard ice cutters navigated the channel, breaking up the frozen wedges of jammed ice.

Shirkey, a resident of Harsens Island, said, in the past, coast guard vessels would transport island residents to the mainland during ice emergencies. After the federal agency stopped its service, Bob Bryson began using his small air boat to get residents across the river during ice jams for a small fee. They were thankful for the service, but it was a rough, cold ride from shore to shore, with only room for four, including the driver.

“The new air boats seat 12 to 14 people,” she said. “They are enclosed and heated.”

Lisa White, Clay Township clerk, said the boats will be on standby for Homeland Security emergencies along the Detroit River system, including the Blue Water Bridge, Ambassador Bridge or the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.

There are two boats available, with one serving as a backup, said White.

In an ice jam, unlike Bryson’s service, the new boats will be used only for escorting island residents to the mainland for the duration of the ferry closure.

“We’re not getting into the transportation business,” White said. “We’ll use them for evacuating, not for taking them back and forth to the island.”

White said there are many other details, including who will operate the vessels and where they will be stored, that will be ironed out later.

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