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Lake Champlain's new waste boat

Lake Champlain is about to get a little cleaner. A new boat — a sort of waterborne honey-wagon — that collects sewage from boaters' tanks was christened yesterday in Burlington.

It’s pouring rain at the Burlington waterfront. But that doesn’t stop about 20 people from coming to watch the launch of Lake Champlain’s newest service boat.

It’s called Champlain’s Ark. And its job isn’t pretty: hauling and disposing human waste so boaters don’t empty their tanks directly into the lake.

James Ehlers, director of Lake Champlain International, says it's a challenge.

"Getting people to participate in this program, it wouldn’t hurt if getting rid of your waste were a little more glamorous and sexy than pulling up to a brown stinking barge," he says.

Champlain’s Ark is a sleek motor boat with big storage tanks. Ross Saxton, also with Lake Champlain International, explains how it works. 

"This hose right here it’s about a 15-foot hose, comes over the side and plugs into the other person’s holding tank and we have an Epson pump that will extract the waste from their boat and bring it in to our 200 gallon tank."

The Ark can hold waste from four to six boats – and the service will be free.

"Where you have a lot of sailboats mooring near the shore, sometimes a lot of them will just dump it over, so you have these localized pathogen issues that will close a beach," Sexton said. 

Sexton and Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont climb onboard while everyone watches from the dock. And the christening begins as Sexton hands Welch a bottle of water collected at the top of Mount Mansfield. 

"So if you would please, congressman, take Lake Champlain’s birth waters pure and clean and douse the boat."

"All right, well, I christen the Blue Water Arc, with the waters that go to the lake from Mount Mansfield," Welch said as he poured the bottle onto the boat's deck. 

Ed Champagne is the boat’s captain. He says he’ll be glad to be out on the water, making those sewage runs.

"It’s not very glamorous," he says with a laugh. "I’m trying to think of what my title should be – but I don’t mind." 

The boat is funded through a federal grant. It will operate in Mallets Bay, Shelburne Bay, and Burlington Bay this summer.

Sarah is a correspondent for North Country Public Radio, based in Canton, N.Y.