PRINCESS ANNE — Somerset County Recreation, Parks & Tourism is joining similar agencies in four other bayside counties to seek federal funding to study the feasibility of establishing a fast passenger ferry service connecting both sides of the Chesapeake Bay.
The County Commissioners voted to join with Visit Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, Queen Anne’s County Economic and Tourism Development, Calvert County Economic Development and the Dorchester County Department of Tourism and sign a memorandum of understanding which intends to request $250,000 from the Economic Development Administration for study funds on a 50/50 match basis.
For Somerset County, Rec & Parks Director Clint Sterling said this has the potential to be “a game changer” when it comes to attracting visitors by serving as a connector to waterside communities. In prior discussions he said up to 10 ports would be identified for what he called “a bus route” along the Chesapeake Bay.
“This is not an alternative for the Bay Bridge,” he said, “and this is not a car ferry, it’s a passenger-only ferry.” Mr. Sterling said this is not designed to take away from the passenger ferries now serving Tangier and Smith Island — in fact it could enhance their businesses by bringing more visitors to Crisfield.
“We’re three hours away from 10 million people. How do we get those folks in our area to experience what we have?” “We’re really excited to be at the table at this early stage with these other counties.”
The study would examine the economic feasibility of such a ferry, suggested stops and the most suitable type of vessel such as electric or hydro-foil boat systems.
There are other jurisdictions interested in taking part as well. County Engineer John Redden said Kent County is one, and according to the Star Democrat the city of Easton has expressed interest.
County Administrator Doug Taylor said Crisfield Mayor Barry Dize was contacted about this opportunity “and is very supporting as well.”
“I think it’s a great day for Somerset County to be moving in this direction,” Mr. Taylor said.
A collaboration last fall between Queen Anne’s County and Visit Annapolis and Anne Arundel County only was denied feasibility study funding. It is hoped by expanding the participants and potential network of ports it will be accepted.
Also Somerset County is seeking support from the Maryland Department of Transportation in its latest letter on transportation improvement priorities.
Ferries linking Crisfield and Baltimore plied the bay from after the Civil War until the early part of the 1900s. In a recent edition of the Crisfield-Somerset County Times local historian Joe Paden wrote about steamboat travel with emphasis on the story of the excursion boat Three Rivers, which was destroyed by a tragic fire in July 1924 while on its way back to Baltimore after coming to Crisfield to watch schooner races.
Mr. Sterling said EDA is expected to make an announcement of grant recipients sometime this summer. The maximum contribution from any of the partners would be $25,000 to cover the match requirement.