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District to Lease Lots to Ferry Operator

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By David McCabe

Despite opposition from neighbors, the Sag Harbor Board of Education has unanimously decided to lease two of the parking lots at Pierson High School to Peconic Jitney, the new company seeking to operate a ferry service between Sag Harbor and Greenport this summer.

The company, which is largely financed by Hampton Jitney, will run a shuttle between Long Wharf and Pierson, allowing ferry passengers to park their cars in the school lots while they travel to the North Fork for the day.

The decision came during Monday’s school board meeting, which stretched on for three and a half hours — largely because of discussions unrelated to the parking lots.

A group of about 40 area residents, calling themselves Neighbors of Pierson, had voiced opposition to the initial plan — which would have used the school’s Montauk Avenue lot, on the grounds that it would increase traffic and noise in the primarily residential area.

In an attempt to resolve these issues, prior to the meeting Sag Harbor School District  Superintendent Dr. John Gratto met with Steven Reiner, who represents Neighbors of Pierson, and Geoffrey Lynch, the President of Hampton Jitney. As a result of that meeting, Dr. Gratto adjusted elements of the proposal in an attempt to satisfy residents complaints. Most significantly, Peconic Jitney will lease the Jermain Street lot instead of the Montauk Avenue space, while the school’s Division Street lot will act as overflow parking for passengers.

Since the Jermain Street lot is already in a high traffic area, Dr. Gratto said, the influx of vehicles is less likely to disturb neighbors. But despite the alterations to the proposed contracts, members of the public and board members grilled Lynch and Dr. Gratto for about 45 minutes.

“This is the opportunity for the board and the public to discuss this for the first time,” board member Chris Tice said.

Much of the concern for those present stemmed from the proposal’s stipulation that the final shuttle would arrive in the lot at midnight on the weekends. Tice, as well as Reiner, raised the possibility this might be too late for neighbors.

Lynch noted the schedule is only tentative and could be changed if there is no demand for an 11 p.m. ferry from Greenport.

He also said the driver of the shuttle, an 11-passenger van, will be responsible for removing garbage from the lot after he or she drops off the final group of passengers.

Dr. Gratto and others on the board argued that the additional traffic brought to the neighborhood as a result of the deal is outweighed by the $20,000 in revenue the lease will generate for the district.

“The school district does have an interest in revenue producing ideas that allow us to maintain programs and services for students,” Dr. Gratto said.

Reiner countered that though the school’s neighbors were not pleased about the proposal, they understood the need for additional revenue in fiscally lean times.

“There are good reasons for the school district to want to make a couple of bucks out of this,” he said.

The contract between Peconic Jitney and the district will only be enforced if the ferry service receives approval from a variety of other authorities, including, said Lynch, the state, the county, the Coast Guard, the DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) and the Village of Sag Harbor Board of Trustees. Lynch added that of those groups, the village trustees would be the most likely to shut the project down if there are major concerns at the end of the ferry’s trial run period this summer.

“If there are too many negatives that are outweighing any positive benefit that this ferry may bring, then they will kill it,” he said.

If they don’t, the ferry’s financers are hoping that the service will begin no later than the last week of June — allowing the route to be operational during the busy July 4 holiday weekend and remaining up and running through Labor Day.