By Bryan Boyhan
For at least the third time in the past 20 years a proposal has been floated to create a service bringing water-borne passengers into Sag Harbor and linking the village with ports elsewhere.
Jim Ryan of Response Marine, Inc., a Mattituck-based company that deploys vessels and manpower to other businesses in marine industries, has forwarded proposals to a number of municipalities along Peconic Bay, including Sag Harbor, hoping to create a service he says will help drive local economies and offer a needed alternative to car transportation on busy local roads.
“Our goal is to increase economic development on the East End,” Ryan said in an interview this week.
He would do this by establishing a dedicated route that would ultimately connect Greenport with Sag Harbor, and Sag Harbor with Southampton and Riverhead. The plan calls for running a 40-passenger shuttle vessel to link those communities on a dedicated schedule. The vessel Ryan has in mind most recently was used as a shuttle bringing passengers from Boston’s Logan Airport into the City of Boston.
As conceived, the service would operate seven days a week, year-round, carrying commuters and tourists. Ryan said he saw the plan as a way to get drivers off the road, and encourage them to use mass transportation. To help that effort, he said he has timed the schedule so that the boats would arrive in major transportation hubs like Riverhead in time to meet with Suffolk County’s S92 bus line that could then bring travelers further west up the island, or connect with rail service. Ryan also imagines seasonal visitors and year-round residents using the service to visit other East End communities for shopping and dining. He said he has intentionally priced the service affordably ($10 one way for an adult, $7.50 for children) to encourage regular use.
In addition to the regular, year-round route, the proposal delivered to Sag Harbor Village also indicates the service may add two smaller vessels during the summer months which would primarily serve to connect Greenport with Orient Point and Sag Harbor with Montauk Point, delivering passengers to destinations based on passenger request. This also may include Riverhead.
“The primary function of our proposed Peconic Bay Shuttle service is to alleviate traffic congestion, which is currently overburdened due to local development in recent years” the proposal reads, adding “and to enhance and establish a faster mode of transportation for the general public to commute, patronize and help grow local business services among all East End retail industries more freely.”
While getting a generally warm reception recently from the mayor of Greenport, in Sag Harbor, Ryan may have an uphill battle.
Despite the village having hosted passenger and vehicle ferry services in the past —including steam paddlewheelers to New York and a converted WWII landing craft to Connecticut — recent proposals have been denied. One plan, most similar to the one offered by Ryan, was proposed by Cliff Clark, owner of the South Ferry, who also intended to link the local East End villages. Another plan, suggested by New York Fast Ferry, would have run a high speed ferry — similar to the one used to bring gamblers back and forth between Connecticut and Orient Point — between lower Manhattan and Sag Harbor.
In both cases, the proposals were turned down largely due to the lack of upland facilities — ie. parking — that were available, and the fear that traffic resulting from from a ferry or water taxi service would put too much pressure on a limited infrastructure.
Opposition to such services has been so strong in the village administration, that they were essentially written out of the village code in its revision last year.
According to Sag Harbor Village Environmental Planning Consultant Rich Warren, operating ferry terminals, whether for automobiles or passengers, is prohibited by the village code, as are excursion boats. An applicant looking to have such a use on their waterfront property could seek a use variance from the Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals, but Warren noted it is one of the hardest variances to gain in the State of New York as it essentially requires applicants to prove there is not another legal waterfront use for their property.
On Tuesday, Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride said the other legal option would be if the village board allowed such a use on public property, as the village is not subject to its own code. However, Gilbride said in this instance that scenario is “highly unlikely.”
Gilbride said he has forwarded the proposal to the village’s planning board and harbor committee, but conceded seeking approval will be a challenge for Ryan.
“I don’t know that, after [village attorney] Fred Thiele looks at this, it’s even something we could legally do,” said Gilbride.
Sag Harbor not participating would not be a deal breaker, Ryan said, adding he has looked at potential terminals in the other ports. In Riverhead, the vessel would possibly dock near the Atlantis Marine World at the site of the future waterfront Hyatt Hotel and Conference Center proposed for the village. In Southampton he would hope to dock at the town’s Conscience Point Marina in North Sea Harbor. As in other communities, Ryan proposes a shuttle bus connection to take passengers onto the village’s Main Street and to the ocean beaches.
Southampton Town Director of Transportation Tom Neely said he has met with Ryan, but had not offered any town property. Neely said a similar serviced had been discussed several times over the years in at least two regional transportation studies, but was never pursued because planners did not see such a shuttle service having a great impact on mass transportation.
Neely said he was encouraging to Ryan, but advised him “the political challenges will be just as problematic as the logistical challenges.”
Still, said Neely, he’s happy to see someone from the private sector “give it a shot.”
“Even if it’s just to see if it would work,” he said.