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Put-in-Bay Loraine Jet Service just waiting on a boat.

2009-03-02

The Lorain Port Authority has a dock and an agreement with Jet Express to provide ferry service to the Lake Erie islands and Put-in-Bay on summer weekends.
Now all it needs is a boat.

The port authority did not receive any bids last month for a boat, even though up to $2 million is available for a used 98-foot-long high-speed vessel that would carry 149 passengers and crew.

It is hoped someone responds by March 16, the new bid deadline, so Put-in-Bay service can begin Memorial Day weekend.

"We are extremely disappointed," Richard Novak, executive director of the port authority, said Friday. "With the economy the way it is, you would think we'd get some bidders."

He believes boat owners are spooked by the 80-page bid package, full of requirements, since $1.4 million is being provided by the Federal Highway Administration through the Ohio Department of Transportation.

Bid requirements include a fresh coat of paint, and 80 percent of the seats must be in good condition. The bidder has to post a 10 percent bond and must deliver the boat.

Potential bidders are balking at spending money for potential improvements or a bond, said Novak. He said he spoke to four people who got bid packages but didn't bid.

"I know there are boats out there," he said.

The long-anticipated ferry service is expected to attract people who live in Cleveland and other cities east and southeast of Lorain who want to go to the islands. Currently, Jet Express offers service to Put-in-Bay and Kelleys Island from Port Clinton and Sandusky.

Lorain port and city officials have sought funding since 2005, two years after the $7 million Black River Landing transportation center opened on the river. The port was awarded the federal dollars last year. The Put-in-Bay Boat Line Co., which runs Jet Express, agreed to contribute at least $300,000, the 20 percent required match for the federal funds. The boat line will operate and maintain the vessel, and the port authority would receive a dockage fee and stipend per passenger, Novak said.

Initially the 70-minute trips would be offered once a day to Put-in-Bay on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The boat would be available for charters during the week and would also offer trips to Cleveland Browns games and other events.

Todd Blumensaadt, president of Jet Express, said it is prepared to spend a little more than $300,000 to get a good used boat. A new boat can cost up to $4 million, he said.

"We are working very vigorously [to find a boat]," he said.

Novak said he has extended his reach for bidders and hopes service can begin in May.

"It is frustrating," Novak said. "We have an operator. We have the funds. We have everything ready. Now we just need a boat."

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