It’s been about two years since Suffolk County officials first approached Sag Harbor Village with news that a mounting county budget deficit had led them to consider giving the village Long Wharf, technically a county road, and all costs associated with its long-term maintenance.
Since that time, the county legislature waffled on the transfer, then appeared willing to go through with the offer. But then a change in command came in 2011 with the election of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, further stalling an official transfer of Long Wharf to Sag Harbor as the county reorganized itself under new leadership.
However, last month, Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman — a longtime supporter of the transfer of Long Wharf to Sag Harbor Village — said he expects the county to formally sign off on the deal some time before December.
If the deal goes through, the village will have in its ownership one of the most iconic properties in Sag Harbor, a wharf that already provides a source of revenue for the village, but also comes with a lot of expenses.
During Tuesday night’s Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees meeting, Mayor Brian Gilbride said he has contacted village treasurer Eileen Touhy and asked her to advise the board about creating a capital reserve fund to cover the long-term costs of maintaining Long Wharf.
According to a 2010 assessment of Long Wharf, completed by the Suffolk County Department of Public Works, at that point a total of $621,000 in repairs were necessary to keep the wharf in good condition.
Mayor Gilbride estimated Long Wharf incurs an estimated $100,000 in maintenance needs each year, meaning as of 2012 about $800,000 in repairs and maintenance could be needed.
While the village does have an estimated $2 million in its reserve fund, Mayor Gilbride said that money should be reserved for critical projects like the remediation of the Havens Beach stormwater runoff drainage ditch and for emergency expenditures.
Taking a cue from an idea presented by the Sag Harbor Village Harbor Committee last year, Mayor Gilbride said he would like to see all revenues from renting Long Wharf — this season an estimated $85,000 — funneled into that account.
Gilbride said he hopes to have a reserve account for the wharf in place sometime in the next two weeks.
Trustee Seat Up For Grabs
On Tuesday night, with Sag Harbor Trustee Robby Stein still hospitalized after a bicycle accident Sunday and with the recent resignation of trustee Tim Culver, Mayor Gilbride was joined on the dais by just two members of the village board — trustees Kevin Duchemin and Ed Gregory.
Sag Harbor resident Nada Barry wondered when the board would look to appoint someone to the board to replace Culver, whose term was set to expire in nine months.
Mayor Gilbride said at this point he had no intentions of making an appointment, later adding if it is the will of the board he would prefer to see the public elect a new trustee next summer rather than appoint someone.
Harbor Committee Talks Ferry
In other news, the Sag Harbor Village Harbor Committee met on Monday evening and at the close of its session, members talked about the possibility of the Hampton Jitney proposing a long-term passenger ferry service out of Sag Harbor.
This summer, the Hampton Jitney launched a passenger ferry, the Peconic Bay Water Jitney, which runs service between Greenport and Sag Harbor villages.
Ferry service — passenger or vehicular — is illegal under the Sag Harbor Village code, but early this summer the village board agreed to allow the Hampton Jitney to operate the service on a temporary basis for one summer season to study the impact it could have on the village.
The service started out slow, but picked up in terms of passengers as the summer season progressed, prompting the Hampton Jitney to expand the service through the month of September.
The village’s conditional approval of the ferry service sunsets at the end of October.
Whether or not the Hampton Jitney will pursue an application for a long-term passenger ferry service out of Sag Harbor Village remains uncertain. According to Hampton Jitney vice president Andrew Lynch, the company has yet to make a decision on that front.
However, members of the Harbor Committee are already attempting to understand the legal implications of such a proposal.
According to Sag Harbor Village attorney Denise Schoen, if the village board wanted to consider allowing a long-term service it would need to adopt a new local law.
Suffolk County is the permitting agent for all ferry service in terms of its license to operate and rates and has already given the Peconic Bay Water Jitney a five-year license. However, the ferry cannot operate out of Sag Harbor without village approval once its conditional approval ends this fall.
“My question is, once we give them a permit to dock on our dock do we have any control on where they go,” asked Harbor Committee Chairman Bruce Tait on Monday night.
Tait said his concern was the service could balloon from a small ferry service between the North and South Forks to a multi-pronged ferry service offering other destinations like Montauk or Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut.
Schoen said she did not believe the village could mandate how the Hampton Jitney decides to run its passenger ferry business, but that village attorney Fred W. Thiele, Jr. was already researching the village’s options should it want to continue to allow the service, but with some restriction.
Tait also wondered if a year-to-year license agreement might protect the village.
Schoen said as property owners of Long Wharf a license agreement may give the village board leeway in deciding not to renew the license if the service grows beyond what the village deems appropriate for Sag Harbor.
“The general consensus from the public and from our internal ferry committee is the negative impact of the ferry has been very little,” noted Tait.
“One of the caveats to that,” added Sag Harbor Village environmental planning consultant Rich Warren, “is that is based on where the ferry is right now.”
“And we don’t know what the future is,” agreed Tait.