Greenport Approves Ferry as Sag Harbor Village Debates How to Study the Service

Posted on 15 May 2012

Geoffrey Lynch’s plan to test the viability of a Hampton Jitney run passenger ferry service between Sag Harbor and Greenport continued to find support last week. The Village of Greenport authorized Mayor David Nyce to draft a letter of consent to allow the service to dock and operate out of Greenport on a trial basis this summer season.

According to Mayor Nyce, the village board reached that agreement on Thursday and will discuss where the vessel should dock as well as a rate schedule in executive session during its Monday meeting.

In an interview on Monday, Mayor Nyce said that following a hearing where residents asked village officials to protect the shellfishing industry by siting the passenger ferry at Mitchell Park Marina, the village was moving in that very direction.

While supporting the service with a letter of consent, in order to ensure the pilot passenger ferry service is not held up for this season, Mayor Nyce said on Monday the board will likely discuss the terms of a final deal with the Hampton Jitney. He added that Greenport officials are working with the Village of Sag Harbor to ensure rates and responsibilities carried by the Hampton Jitney during this summer season are similar in both villages.

Mayor Nyce confirmed that both villages, by law, will have to charge the Hampton Jitney docking rates for the Peconic Bay Water Jitney, as municipalities cannot gift public property, but declined to reveal what rates the villages were considering until the contract was reviewed next Monday.

The Village of Greenport’s decision follows the Village of Sag Harbor, which last week also paved the way for what Lynch — the owner of the Hampton Jitney — has coined the Peconic Bay Water Jitney. The Sag Harbor Village Board, sans Deputy Mayor Tim Culver, temporarily amended its village-wide ban on passenger ferry service in Sag Harbor through October in an effort to give Lynch the opportunity to test the waters on a ferry services between the Twin Forks as an alternate transportation option on the East End.

In addition to the villages’ approval, the Peconic Bay Water Jitney must also receive a license from Suffolk County, which also has the right to approve the ferry’s rate schedule. Currently that is proposed as $20 round trip, $11 one-way per person. This week Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman said he was trying to ensure a 15-years and under children’s ticket was available at half price to ensure families could afford to use the service.

According to Legislator Schneiderman, the county will continue its review of the ferry service in June. Lynch and his partner, Jim Ryan of Response Marine, have said they would like to launch their service at the end of June and intend to run it through Labor Day, assessing its success after the final holiday weekend of the summer.

Sag Harbor residents have largely been divided on whether the ferry service, which will launch nine times a day on a 53-person catamaran off one side of the north end of Long Wharf and will dock overnight in Greenport, will be a detriment or benefit to the community. Mayor Nyce said residents in Greenport were “generally favorable” of the concept and particularly like the idea of increasing commerce in the downtown.

In response to some residents concerns, Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride spoke of developing a task force of village employees to study the impact the ferry has on traffic, parking and commerce — the three areas of concern raised by village residents during the debate over the ferry this spring.

On Monday night, the village’s Harbor Committee took that one step further, giving the proposal its seal of approval under the Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (LWRP) under specific conditions. They also called on the village to develop a substantive way to assess the ferry’s impact.

Harbor Committee chairman Bruce Tait, who has been working with Planning Board Chairman Neil Slevin, said he would like the village to develop a metric based system to analyze the impacts to traffic, parking and commerce. Tait suggested the village should contract with a planning expert — like the village’s consultant Inter-Science Research Associates — to formalize those metrics so that the final study of the ferry is not subjective, but one based in fact.

Tait and Slevin envision the village team Mayor Gilbride suggested — the police chief, harbor master, superintendent of public works, village clerk and members of the Harbor Committee and Planning Board — could report to an expert conducting these traffic, parking and commerce studies.

The cost of the study, said Tait, should be born at least in part by the Hampton Jitney as they are a commercial entity that stands to profit from the proposal.

As an example, said Tait, one way to study parking and traffic impacts is to poll people using the ferry on how they got there — by car, by Jitney shuttle or by foot — and if they did come to Sag Harbor by car, ask where they parked. Similarly, ferry passengers could be asked to fill out basic information on where they shopped or ate in Sag Harbor while touring the village.

“This way at the end of the trial period we don’t have an assessment with people saying, ‘I like it,’ ‘I didn’t like it’,” said Tait. “We have metrics to measure this by.”

The Harbor Committee also formally approved the plan as consistent under several chapters of the LWRP, including those that promote the use of the village as a center of maritime activity, suitable for water dependent uses including specifically a ferry service, as well as a village that promotes access to the water and protects scenic resources and vistas.

One condition, however, was that the north end of Long Wharf, long used for fishing or simply gazing into the harbor, not be used by the ferry service.

While Tait argued the village could use the west side of Long Wharf for the ferry instead of the north end, after the meeting Harbor Master Bob Bori told Tait he did not believe the boat could safely navigate into the west side and would need to take a portion of the north end.

The Sag Harbor Village Board will review the Harbor Committee’s recommendation at its June 12 meeting where it is also expected Lynch will make a formal proposal to run the ferry service this summer off Long Wharf.

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