The Village of Sag Harbor is poised to sign off on a pilot program that would allow a passenger ferry service to operate between the village and Greenport this summer.
On Tuesday night, a majority of the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees voted in a straw poll to move forward with plans to amend village law. That amendment would allow the Hampton Jitney and Response Marine to operate a passenger ferry service off Long Wharf for a trial period over this summer season.
The decision came after residents voiced their opinions about the proposal. While most were in favor of the idea, others expressed concern that it was not researched enough.
However, four of five members of the village board — with deputy mayor Tim Culver casting the lone dissenting vote — were swayed. The board voted to hold a public hearing on next month to legalize passenger ferry operation off the north end of Long Wharf this summer.
The Hampton Jitney will fund the Peconic Bay Water Jitney service with Response Marine handling the operation of the water taxi the team intends to use this summer.
“We have really taken on this endeavor because we feel it has a lot of potential and could be a viable transit solution for the East End,” said Hampton Jitney President Geoffrey Lynch on Tuesday night.
According to Lynch, the ferry will offer roundtrip service from Greenport to Sag Harbor starting at 7 a.m. ending at 8 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and 11:45 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. His firm has contracted to lease a low wake catamaran from New York Water Taxi that would seat 53 people.
In an attempt to reduce the amount of traffic or parking problems the ferry could generate in Sag Harbor, a village already notorious for its traffic congestion, Lynch has devised a shuttle service that would connect Sag Harbor to Bridgehampton and East Hampton.
Lynch said the shuttle service would make 14 loops each day.
Instead of the large Hampton Jitney buses, Lynch said the firm would start out with a 13-person shuttle and move up to a 20-person shuttle if necessary.
According to Lynch, the shuttle would begin at Marine Park in Sag Harbor, loop down Main Street and to the Bridgehampton/Sag Harbor Turnpike to Scuttlehole Road and would connect with the Suffolk County Transit bus stop at the Bridgehampton Commons.
It would then travel Montauk Highway towards East Hampton meeting passengers at Jitney stops in Bridgehampton and East Hampton. The shuttle will make two additional stops in East Hampton at county bus stops on Newtown Lane and at the East Hampton Village train station before taking Route 114 back into Sag Harbor where it would let passengers off at Marine Park.
Lynch said there has also been discussions about contacting the Sag Harbor School District about a second pick up point at Pierson High School, where people could park their cars and get on the shuttle bus to the ferry.
Before the board of trustees voiced their opinions, they asked to hear from the public.
Wharf Shop owner Nada Barry said the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce board of directors has voted and would like to see the ferry service operate on a trial basis.
“How many times have we been at this,” asked Pierce Hance, a former mayor of Sag Harbor. “It must be spring again.”
Hance noted that he was personally involved in the Sustainable East End Development Strategies (SEEDS) study, a study that Lynch and Response Marine’s Jim Ryan have cited as being supportive of this kind of transit system. Hance said that the rail-bus-water taxi concept was explored, but that the group never came to consensus on whether or not water transit should be a part of the transportation plan for the East End.
“I am not against ferries, but my concern is these people this year show up again and after last year there should have been a whole year of planning where they would come before this board,” said Hance. “This leaves very little time for discussion. The concern is if you let this one go through, how do you control it?”
“I am here to say I am in favor of and am looking forward to the prospect of having a ferry here,” said resident Linda Schwartz.
She added she would like to see the service opened up to offer passage to Montauk, giving residents the ability to take a water taxi to the beach, rather than a community so similar to its own.
“Originally, I thought this was a dangerous proposal and that ferries in general would be dangerous to Sag Harbor,” said resident and Harbor Committee chairman Bruce Tait.
Tait said that instead of viewing this concept as one that could add to the traffic and parking issues in the village, he was choosing to look at this as something that could take cars off the road in the long run.
“As a resident I think it could be positive and that is why I like the way you are handling it — as a pilot program,” said Tait. “It may alleviate some of this traffic we have if it takes cars off the roads. We need an alternative to what is happening in terms of traffic here.”
“I think this is the most sensible idea that has come along in a long, long time,” added resident Alexandra Lee Hunt. “I would certainly use the ferry and I think it is also energy conscious.”
Bay Street resident Patricia Donovan disagreed, saying she believes it will bring a tremendous amount of traffic into the village, which already has traffic problems.
“I think they just want to make a whole pile of money and get started on something that will be very detrimental to our village,” she said.
Jeff Peters wondered what kind of money the village could expect to cover the cost of dockage or repairs to Long Wharf.
Mayor Gilbride said a financial figure has not been discussed with project sponsors and they would be required to rent their space on Long Wharf. Lynch added that his firm intended on spending money on capital repairs, including the construction of passenger float barge so that people could safely board and depart the ferry.
While most village board members supported the idea, Culver said he was “a little queasy” at the idea of granting a temporary permit for something against village code. He added he would like to see a traffic impact study completed.
“It’s always easy to say no and turn it away,” said Mayor Gilbride. “I think sometimes you have to open the door and let some of these things happen.”