Soft landing for Ducks in Delaware?

Ride the Ducks president Chris Herschend, with reporters yesterday.
Ride the Ducks president Chris Herschend, with reporters yesterday.
Posted: January 26, 2011

No Schuylkill? No problem.

Ride the Ducks, a tour-boat company, said yesterday that it has approval from the Coast Guard to reboot its operations on the Delaware River, after the city denied its bid to operate on the scenic Schuylkill.

"I'll expect that we'll aim for returning to the Delaware, and we're going to work closely with our stakeholders, being the Coast Guard and the city, on that decision in the coming weeks," Chris Herschend, president of the company, said yesterday.

The city denied Ride the Duck's plans to use the Schuylkill yesterday because the city's "standards for operations" were not met by the amphibious-vehicle operator, according to the mayor's office.

Mayor Nutter cited concerns about traffic in the Art Museum area and how the boats would operate on days when special events shut down traffic there.

The plan would have taken passengers from the Independence Mall area toward City Hall and the Art Museum, and then into the Schuylkill, which is devoid of the shipping traffic that plies the Delaware.

The Schuylkill plan came to be after the accident on the Delaware on July 7 that killed two Hungarian tourists after a city-owned barge was pushed by a tugboat into a duck boat.

Three weeks after a preliminary report was released by the National Transportation Safety Board in September, the city and the company announced a plan for Ride the Ducks to operate in the Schuylkill.

After public backlash to that plan, the city opened up a bidding process in December. Ride the Ducks was the lone applicant.

"From the very start of this process, the public concerns were an active voice in these deliberations," Nutter said.

The public wasn't involved, however, in the review process over the bid to use the Schuylkill by Ride the Ducks. The Nutter administration refused to divulge the identities of those on the panel deciding the bid.

"Many people who were against having any entertainment tour on the Schuylkill are very happy, but there should have been a much more open process so that people would have known what was going on," said Russell Meddin, co-coordinator of the Schuylkill River Park Alliance.

Nutter said the city had no immediate plans to put out another request for proposals for amphibious vehicles on the Schuylkill. The city was able to block this plan because the intended route onto the river was through city property.

But the city had no sign-off over the boats on the Delaware, Nutter said. "We had no contractual relationship with them," he said of the prior arrangement.

Ride the Ducks' contract to operate in the Delaware is with the Delaware River Waterfront Corp. The corporation owns the land where Ride the Ducks built a ramp to access the river in 2003, Herschend said. The company pays rent to use the land, he said.

The families of the victims of the duck-boat accident, Dora Schwendtner and Szabolcs Prem, said in a statement released by their attorneys yesterday: "How many deaths by duck boat does it take before the lesson is learned that in their current state of design they're an accident waiting to happen?"

Staff writer Catherine Lucey contributed to this report.

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