Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Use Ferry as Clean Transportation to Alternative Energy Capital of the World

Our beloved fast ferry remains docked at the Port of Rochester, a sad reminder of our too-quick rush to establish ferry service and our too-quick rush to get out of it. It is becoming increasingly apparent that Euroferries does not have the cash to buy our boat in accordance with the terms that were so publicly announced earlier this year. Recent news stories have suggested that although there are numerous suitors out there, the ferry will not fetch nearly the amount that Euroferries was to have paid for it. And all the money that has been lost over the past year with the ferry sitting at port? That'll be eaten up by city taxpayers, of course.

This situation should reflect badly on Mayor Duffy's "all-star team" of advisors, especially Tom Richards, the man who brokered the deal. But Mr. Richards is somehow immune to such criticism. He managed to sell Rochester Gas & Electric to EnergyEast, a deal which led to the layoff of more than 1,000 Rochester-based employees, without nary a peep from local politicians or the media. Maybe that was because many local stockholders made out like bandits while the proud local institution was looted and its workforce decimated. It is pretty clear now that Richards took his poor business acumen to City Hall and promptly made a decision that is costing the city dearly with each passing day. Are there any solutions that will save the city money? Is there any chance that we will once again have ferry service to Canada's largest metropolis - one of the world's fastest-growing economies?

I can answer both of those questions with one response - yes. It just takes a little bit more risk-taking and a lot more "outside-the-box" thinking. The Democrat & Chronicle recently ran a series of articles under the heading of "Reworking Rochester". The idea was to promote some concepts that could halt the area's economic decline and foster growth in our key strengths. Those key strengths included biotechnology/optics, manufacturing, health care, and alternative energy. It is that last strength where the ferry could potentially play a unique role. We should consider scrapping the sale of the ferry and converting it to alternative fuels. If we are to indeed establish ourselves as a capital of alternative energy, having the world's largest alternative fuel vehicle would certainly be a mammoth exclamation point for the region. Is it feasible? I do not pretend to know whether such a large vessel could be converted, but I do know that this is not out of the realm of possibility. There is a push in the San Francisco Bay Area to convert their ferry fleet to biodiesel with one of the main selling points being the positive effect it would have on that area's alternative fuels industry.

It is likely that our elected representatives in DC and/or Albany could obtain Federal and/or State grants for doing this work with little to no direct cost to local taxpayers. It is possible that converting the ferry to alternative energy would increase its operating costs, thereby rendering it infeasible for commercial service. But who said the ferry must be used for commercial service at all? Instead, it could be a working laboratory for testing various alternative fuel technologies on the open water. Such a research project may have the potential to employ hundreds and further cement our position amongst the world's centers for alternative energy research. Granted, I could be completely wrong about this, but given the potential harm to city taxpayers that a decreased sale price would bring, isn't it worth at least looking into? We can either be an indebted city with a useless ferry terminal or a vibrant center of marine-based alternative energy research, which do you prefer?