By Andrew Rudansky
A proposal to connect Greenport to Sag Harbor via a passenger ferry this summer drew a small crowd to a public hearing at the Sag Harbor Municipal Building Tuesday night, with both supporters and detractors weighing in.
At stake in the proposal was the granting of a temporary special permit that would allow a passenger ferry to operate out of Long Wharf between May 1 to October 31 of this year. This would be the first ferry to operate in the village since the mid-seventies.
Currently village law prevents any such ferry service from operating anywhere in the village. However, in the weeks leading up to the April 10 hearing, several village trustees expressed approval of temporarily changing the law to allow Jim Ryan of Response Marine and Hampton Jitney President Geoffrey Lynch to operate a ferry terminal for a test period this summer.
While the particulars of the passenger ferry are still not set in stone, a proposal outlining some of the details was presented by Ryan and Lynch. In the proposal Hampton Jitney would lease a 53-seat low-wake catamaran from New York Water Taxi for the ferry service.
The catamaran would make seven trips on weekdays between Sag Harbor and Greenport. This number of trips would increase to nine during the weekends.
During Tuesday’s public hearing Lynch said that tickets for the proposed ferry would be sold for $11 for one-way and $20 for roundtrip.
In the public hearing on Tuesday, Lynch said the proposed ferry could provide an economic boost to both forks on the island, while also taking more cars off the road.
While residents on both sides of the issue were given an opportunity to sound off on the issue Tuesday, most in attendance were opposed to the idea. Anger over this proposal bubbled up in the meeting when several speakers directly challenged the trustees over the perceived lack of information the trustees gathered before considering the plan.
“This is not appearing in front of other boards…why are you circumventing these other boards?” asked Sag Harbor resident and former village mayor Pierce Hance, who called the process a “rush job.”
Village Attorney Fred Thiele said that while the trustees could relegate this approval decision to the various village zoning and planning boards, they were not required to do so.
Gilbride tried to assuage the fears in the audience by repeating that the pilot project was temporary and the special permit could be revoked if the resulting situation was unsatisfactory.
Resident Jeff Peters, a member of the village’s Harbor Committee, expressed his disapproval at what he thought would turn into “an oil rig off of Long Wharf.”
“What is this going to cost the village?” asked Peters. “Have you done any homework on this?”
At the time of the public hearing the trustees had not conducted any official studies outlining the economic, environmental, or parking impact the ferry might have. At the hearing Gilbride said the only way to find out whether this ferry will work for the village is to try it out on a limited basis.
Jakki O’Neill, representing Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman at the meeting, spoke in favor of the proposal.
“I think it is very forward thinking on behalf of the trustees,” said O’Neill. “Legislator Schneiderman has confidence that the board will go about this in the best and safest way that they can.”
Parking conditions were at the forefront of concerns for many in the audience at the hearing.
“If there are going to be five boats a day, I cant imagine what Long Wharf will look like,” said village resident Kathleen McLaughlin. “I am really concerned where we will park ourselves to go to the grocery store.”
Lynch, also a resident of Sag Harbor, said that parking overcrowding could be mitigated.
“I have met with Dr. [John] Gratto at the Sag Harbor School Board, and we have a tentative lease in place for the Montauk Avenue parking field,” said Lynch.
The 30-car lot located behind the school would be used starting in June with a shuttle service running in a loop to and from the ferry.
Lynch also stated he has been in talks with Suffolk County Transit to create a new bus route, to coincide with the ferry arrival times, that would travel between Sag Harbor, Bridgehampton and East Hampton. He said the route would allow people to leave their cars in the surrounding hamlets while giving them easy access to the proposed ferry.
“The net effect is no additional vehicles,” said Lynch. “I would like to see on the East End a more enhanced transportation system trough Suffolk County Transit, and the only way this will happen is with private-public partnership.”
Many in the audience were unconvinced that these bus shuttles would relieve any parking situation caused by the ferry.
“If you have just one more car in this village, you already have a bigger problem with parking,” said village resident Jeff Levine.
Sag Harbor Trustee Robby Stein said the board likes the idea of the ferry, but is far from an actual decision one way or the other.
“I think we are just still in discussion, what we want is to continue that discussion,” said Stein. “A lot of people are not understanding, that even if this is passed, [Lynch and Ryan] still have to go through the regular processes.”
The trustees will have an opportunity to vote on the proposal at the next trustees meeting on Tuesday, May 8 at 6 p.m.