Federal program helps with purchase of new ferry boat

The Chemehuevi Tribe's ferry boat docked at Lake Havasu City.

Photo Courtesy of the Chemehuevi Tribe
The Tecopa's inaugural run took place on December 3.

In a land-locked state like Arizona, you wouldn’t think anyone around here needs to rely on a boat for transportation. But in an area near the far western portion of our state, there actually are many people who depend on a ferry to get to jobs, school and recreation…

The ferry boat we’re referring to belongs to the Chemehuevi Tribe and it makes several trips per day between the docks in Lake Havasu City and the Chemehuevi community, which sits just across the lake.

So, what does all this have to do with ADOT?

ADOT recently oversaw the allocation of federal grant funds from the Federal Highway Administration to the Chemehuevi Tribe. The money, which comes from the FHWA Ferry Boat Discretionary Program, was used to build a new terminal building and parking lot and for the purchase of a brand new ferry boat, according to Chemehuevi Tribal Planner Bill Cox.

Cox explains the partnership with ADOT has been a good one…

“It was a learning curve for us,” he said of the federal grant submittal process. “ADOT helped us get through the process of purchasing land … they were there to help us out … it was a great working relationship and it still is.”

Misty Klann, an ADOT planner and tribal liaison, explains the experience was a learning curve for ADOT, too – this was the first time ADOT administered a grant from the Ferry Boat Discretionary Program.

“In administering those funds, we had to embark on some understanding … trying to figure out the details around the funding,” she said.

According to the FHWA website, there are several guidelines determining which projects are awarded funding, including a requirement that says the grants are available only when it is not feasible to build a bridge, tunnel or other normal highway structure (read more about the program’s guidelines).

The Tecopa
A boat ride across the lake amounts a roughly 18-minute trip, says Cox, where the drive would take you over 90 minutes. The faster trip is more convenient and helps people in each community get across the lake for jobs, school, shopping and recreation.

The Chemehuevi Tribe has been providing a ferry service since the early 1990s, according to Cox.

They started out with smaller boats before obtaining the Dreamcatcher – a ferry boat that was in use from 1996 until just this month.

The Dreamcatcher held 97 passengers and two crew members and she was “a very good boat,” according to Cox, but age, wear, size and a few other factors meant it was time for a new one that would be able to provide the type of service the Chemehuevi Tribe wanted to offer.

That’s where the grant funding comes in…

It was used to help the tribe purchase the Tecopa, a new boat that can carry 150 people, plus three crew members. The inaugural sailing of the Tecopa, which, by the way, means “wildcat” in the Chemehuevi language, took place on Dec. 3.

The grant funds also went to construct a terminal building and parking lot in Lake Havasu City. Before now, there wasn’t a terminal or space to park, Cox said.

And, in case you were wondering … the Dreamcatcher’s days in service are not over! Cox says she will be completely refurbished (stronger hull fittings, etc.) and will serve as a backup to the Tecopa and will also be available for special events when a second boat is necessary to adequately serve the public.

For more on the Ferry Boat Discretionary Program, visit the FHWA website. More information on Arizona Tribal Transportation is available on their website.