Despite mounting opposition, the Sag Harbor Village Board approved a passenger ferry on a trial basis on Tuesday night, offering service between Sag Harbor and Greenport villages this summer.
Deputy Mayor Tim Culver cast the lone dissenting vote.
Operated by the Peconic Bay Water Jitney corporation — a company founded by Hampton Jitney President Geoffrey Lynch and led by Response Marine’s Jim Ryan —Lynch says he hopes to have the ferry service up and running by June 28, the Thursday before Fourth of July weekend.
According to Lynch, while the village approved a temporary permit giving the Peconic Bay Water Jitney the right to ferry passengers from Greenport to Sag Harbor and vice versa through October 31, he expects to end the service after Labor Day weekend. After that it will be evaluated for its success or failure — both from the business’ perspective and that of the village — before Lynch decides whether or not he will apply to the village for a long-term service, possibly with more ports of call.
As a part of the agreement, which stipulates the village can discontinue the service immediately if it finds it’s having a negative impact on Sag Harbor residents, the Peconic Bay Water Jitney will pay the village $12,000 to dock on the north end of Long Wharf. The 53-person catamaran will dock overnight and re-fuel in Greenport, which will charge the ferry the same fee.
Lynch said he is looking for upwards of 300 total passengers per day to determine whether or not the ferry is a successful business venture.
The Village of Greenport has already approved the ferry service with Tuesday night’s meeting behind them, the Peconic Bay Water Jitney needs only the Suffolk County Legislature to sign off on its charter and fee schedule. According to Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman that is expected to happen at the legislature’s June 19 session. Lynch has proposed charging $20 roundtrip, $11 one-way and half price for children under 13. Passengers may bring bikes aboard for free.
After determining it would lead the environmental review of the ferry, the trustees were met with three-hours dominated by voices of opposition, arguing that the village board did not have clear standards by which it would judge the success or failure of the ferry service once it ceases operation. Residents also argued allowing the ferry, even on a temporary basis, could hamstring the village into allowing Lynch to move forward with a larger ferry service whether they want it or not. Others expressed concerns about traffic and parking, particularly around Pierson High School where the Peconic Bay Water Jitney has contracted to lease parking lot space on Jermain Avenue from the Sag Harbor School District for $20,000.
Madison Street resident Kathryn Levy opened the public hearing presenting a statement signed by a number of residents and business owners.
“We believe that the proposed trial is unacceptable,” read Levy. “The impacts have not been fully or properly assessed. No criteria for the trial’s success — as defined by the costs and benefits to the village community — have been established thus making it an entirely arbitrary, some would say fraudulent, trial.”
Levy said the group was concerned about the impact the service could have on the harbor, the merchants who need precious parking for their patrons and not ferry passengers and the impact on the historic streets and houses of Sag Harbor.
Save Sag Harbor board member Jane Young said her board also had some concerns about the ferry service and has been inundated with emails from residents.
Young said the not-for-profit wanted assurances the service would in fact remain temporary and that criteria could be legally established to study the potential impact of the ferry on residents, including benchmark numbers for how they will assess traffic and parking. Young said trustees should also charge fair market rates for dockage on Long Wharf and that Save Sag Harbor wanted to be assured the service would not cost the village or its taxpayers a dime, under any circumstances.
Jermain Avenue resident Carol Williams said she was concerned about the impact to her neighborhood now that the Hampton Jitney will be encouraging people to park at the school lot before they are shuttled on a 12-person van to downtown Sag Harbor. That concession was offered by Lynch in an effort to reduce parking concerns associated with the new service. The Jitney has also proposed a shuttle service between Bridgehampton, East Hampton and Sag Harbor in an effort to reduce traffic impacts.
“I don’t believe the parking has been thought out,” said Williams, noting it was only in the last couple of weeks she even discovered parking at the school was being considered.
Zoning board of appeals chairwoman and architect Gayle Pickering wondered how the village intended to assess the ferry service.
Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride said the villages would ask passengers to complete a survey about how they got to the village, where they parked, and how much money was spent during their travels. He added it is also something that will be monitored by Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Thomas Fabiano, Superintendent of Public Works Dee Yardley, Village Clerk Beth Kamper and Planning Board Chairman Neil Slevin. At her request, he invited Pickering to join that committee.
Harbor Committee member Jeff Peters questioned why the village would only charge $12,000 for dockage.
“We should be asking for more money if we want to do this,” said Peters.
Responding to the criticism, Sag Harbor Trustee Robby Stein noted that the Sustainable East End Development (SEED) study included the suggestion of passenger ferry service on the East End. He added the village’s Harbor Committee, sans Peters, has also deemed it consistent with the Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (LWRP). He added the decision to lease parking space to the Jitney was solely a school decision and not one made by the village.
“I do not know what the effect will be,” said Stein. “If we don’t try it and look at it, how will we know?”
Stein added he believed adolescents who don’t drive but would like to spend time in Greenport would also benefit from the ferry service, as would those who don’t have access to boats.
The American Hotel owner Ted Conklin said mechanically the ferry could work, but he was concerned about the impact it could have on the sailing community, traffic, parking and did not believe it would benefit local businesses.
“Financially, it will not be beneficial especially when you look at the demographics of Greenport,” said Conklin. “It will be more beneficial to Greenport than Sag Harbor.”
To the naysayers who accused the village board of rushing the process, The Wharf Shop owner Nada Barry said this has been in discussion for months.
“There are people in our area who want to use this,” said Barry. “I also want to say in one’s life, and I am older than most of you in this room, static-ness does not get you anywhere be it in business or in community.”
According to Lynch, he will open his books regarding ferry service to the village and the village will be indemnified should any accidents occur associated with the ferry.
“Again, this is only a pilot project and I think that is being missed,” said Lynch’s attorney Tiffany Scarlato. “It is a 100-day project and will not continue unless the village board thinks it is successful.”
“Certainly, what I have gotten from this is it is a way to gather information to determine whether or not it is viable,” said Mayor Gilbride. “If it is out of control we can terminate it quickly.”