MONT ST. MICHEL, France, April 24 (UPI) -- Visitors to Mont St. Michel, France, fell 9 percent last year, a decrease residents are blaming on higher parking prices and limited access to the island.
French officials announced in 1995 a $285 million project to restore the municipality's status as an island -- years of silt buildup around the island has made it nearly landlocked during low tide.
The project would replace a causeway connecting the island to the mainland with a bridge. As part of the restoration effort, officials have already installed a dam in the nearby Couesnon River to give its water more power to push the silt gathering around the island further out to sea.
Christophe Maisonobe, the operational director of the project, said the new dam has caused the salt marshes to retreat by about 2,000 feet.
"It's working better than we expected," he said.
As part of the project, parking lots at the island have been removed and visitors must now park about 2 miles away on the mainland, The New York Times reported Tuesday. Visitors will be shuttled to within half a mile of the island along the new bridge and must pay $16 for parking, up from $11 before the project, the Times said.
Cyrille Guillaume, the maitre d'hotel of the Auberge St. Pierre on the island said receipts were down 30 percent, saying at least half the drop "comes from the new difficulty of access."
"If access is bad, business is bad," he said.
Mont St. Michel Mayor Eric Vannier said he opposed the shuttle plan and higher parking price but thinks the restoration of the small island is worth it.
"We're in France, and anything that changes anyone's habits a priori we don't like. But those same people in a few years will see the beauty of the site, and this moaning will disappear," he said.