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Cave-In-Rock ferry could halt operations without new contract

Cars board onto the Cave-In-Rock ferry to travel across the Ohio River.
Cave-In-Rock Ferry
Cars board onto the Cave-In-Rock ferry to travel across the Ohio River.

A ferry that transports hundreds of cars across the Ohio River each day between western Kentucky and southern Illinois could see its operations grind to a halt by the end of the week because of ongoing contract negotiations.

The privately-run Cave-In-Rock ferry, the Ohio River Ferry Authority in Crittenden County and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet negotiate new contracts every two years to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funding for the ferry’s operation. The cost of the ferry is usually split between the transportation agencies for Kentucky and Illinois.

Cave-In-Rock ferry operator Lonnie Lewis says the current contracts for the ferry are set to expire Friday, but there have been delays in negotiations between the ferry authority and the transportation cabinet. Lewis said he would stop running the ferry Friday if a new contract isn’t signed.

“I get aggravated,” Lewis said. “It's beyond my control, but I feel like somebody didn't do their job or we'd have it done.”

Crittenden County Judge-Executive Perry Newcom, who sits on the Ohio River Ferry Authority board, said disagreements over new language added into the ferry contract by the transportation cabinet have delayed efforts toward a new contract that started in February.

“It always seems to come down to the last minute with this agreement, and you know, it really doesn’t have to be that way,” Newcom said.

Newcom said some of the new language added by the cabinet into the contract included giving the responsibility of managing the ferry operations with the ferry authority, instead of the private operator who normally manages those operations. Newcom said the language disagreements have led to back-and-forth discussions between the state and ferry authority. A transportation cabinet spokesperson said conversations are still happening regarding the contract.

According to the cabinet, the river ferry makes the distance traveling from Marion, Kentucky, to Cave-In-Rock, Illinois, only 10 miles. Without the ferry, the trip would turn into a 70-minute commute. The Waterways Journal reported contract disputes also happened in 2020 in part because the ferry operator, Lonnie Lewis, had asked for more funding.

"Liam Niemeyer is a reporter for the Ohio Valley Resource covering agriculture and infrastructure in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia and also serves Assistant News Director at WKMS. He has reported for public radio stations across the country from Appalachia to Alaska, most recently as a reporter for WOUB Public Media in Athens, Ohio. He is a recent alumnus of Ohio University and enjoys playing tenor saxophone in various jazz groups."
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