When you look at Sag Harbor, the first thing you notice is the water — and for good reason.
Throughout its history, the waterfront has been the primary reason for the village’s existence. From the days when it was a port from which local farmers could ship their goods to the rest of the world, to the heyday of the whaling industry, when some of the biggest ships of the day sailed into port with the valuable byproducts of their mammoth prey, Sag Harbor has been defined by its waterfront.
Even today, Sag Harbor Village’s value lies in the fact that it is the only maritime center — as far as villages go — on the South Fork, and as a community we are rightly proud and protective of the waterfront. We fish its waters, we kayak, we swim, we raise oysters and we boat — it is an intrinsic part of life in the village.
So we understand the tendency for some to be overly cautious when it comes to protecting our waterfront, our tight-knit community and everything that comes with it. That being said, the newest incarnation of a proposed passenger ferry service connecting Sag Harbor to Greenport is one that intrigues us, at least for a one-year trial.
Debate over allowing a passenger ferry has circulated for years. Too many years. So now, it’s something we’d like to see the village try out — albeit on a very limited and controlled basis. We do not want to be the community that turned its back on what has the potential to be a groundbreaking, successful and environmentally friendly mode of transportation aquatically connecting the Twin Forks.
Especially since the project sponsors are only asking for permission to have one boat for one season. If it doesn’t work out — if it, say, morphs into a traffic or pedestrian nightmare — then sure, we can all move on.
However, if we don’t even give it a go for one season, how can we truly know what we are or aren’t missing out on? How would we know whether or not we’re facing a new economic driver between the two villages? Or if we’re actually looking at a new method of transportation modeled very closely on the ideas presented by the Five Towns Rural Transit’s Sustainable East End Development Strategies and creating yet another way Sag Harbor Village can celebrate its storied maritime history?
The simple fact is, we can’t.
To casually toss this concept away would be irresponsible and no less than a knee-jerk reaction to change. Response Marine’s Jim Ryan entertained concerns about traffic and parking when he first presented a larger proposal for a passenger ferry service connecting Riverhead, Greenport and Sag Harbor Village last year. Now, he has conscientiously scaled back his plans to a proposal that only connects Sag Harbor and Greenport. What’s more, he’s partnered with one of the strongest and most stable local businesses on the East End — the Hampton Jitney — which, smartly, has grasped onto this idea, seeing it as potentially the next big shift in transportation for our waterfront communities.
The Hampton Jitney, the main stakeholder in this business proposal at this point, will offer shuttle services between Sag Harbor, East Hampton and Bridgehampton in an effort to curb traffic and parking issues that may result from the proposed passenger ferry service. The Jitney will also offer similar services on the North Fork.
Another potential benefit for the Village of Sag Harbor in this concept would be the ability to strike a deal that includes dockage fees for the passenger ferry. In a monetary sense, this is a no-brainer: it would boost revenues at a time when this village is looking to take ownership of Long Wharf, which itself would be an expensive proposition in the long run.
According to a recent on-line survey conducted by The Sag Harbor Express, we are by no means alone in our support of this proposal. Seventy-one percent of respondents support the concept of a passenger ferry in Sag Harbor Village. And there is historic precedence — for generations, passenger ferries plied the waters of Sag Harbor.
This kind of collaboration is the kind of transportation strategy often conceived by municipalities and public authorities to reduce traffic congestion, parking issues and promote environmentally friendly forms of transportation. It is no wonder the Greenport Village Mayor David Nyce already supports this proposal — it has a lot of positive potential. So why not give it a shot? If it doesn’t work, then we can be done with this idea once and for all.