Tourists, Ferries, Et Al.

June 11, 1998

We've heard the phrase "What a summer!" repeated in alarm several times already this season, and summer is still more than a week away officially. The cry has gone up: too much traffic, too many ambulance calls, too little courtesy, too much happening at once. The litany is familiar, but it comes earlier than usual.

In this context we were surprised to get a call from the executive director of the East Hampton Business Alliance, Sherry Wolfe, complaining that East Hampton Town Supervisor Cathy Lester had declared herself against business when she said the town didn't need day-trippers "taking advantage of our beaches."

Some retail merchants and restaurants no doubt count on day-trippers to make ends meet in season. But just as many complain that visitors who drive here for the day clog the arteries and do more browsing than buying. As far as our beaches go, there are too few accessible public beaches, especially ocean beaches, to accommodate the resident population in the midst of summer, let alone day-trippers or the estimated number of people who will live here in the future.

What has worked to keep the East End a pleasant place to live, or visit, has been bipartisan town zoning, coupled with public acquisition of lots of open space. There is now, however, a growing fear that the number of people seeking to share the South Fork's amenities is out of control. There is little hope of expanding beach and business-district parking in the near future, if ever. It is, therefore, not in the community's best interest for government to take a more-the-merrier stand. On the other hand, the economy here is based on tourism as much as second homes, tourism even the most conservative among us encourage as the town celebrates its 350th anniversary and as Montauk commemorates the Rough Riders visit there 100 years ago.

There is little to be gained when leaders in government and business frame their positions in contrarian and oversimplified terms. If Ms. Lester spoke without thinking about how her words would sound, Ms. Wolfe's reaction was quick on the trigger. The forces that govern a community are like a seesaw. It can tilt from side to side and favor one side over the other, but good government is a product of perfect balance.

Meanwhile, there may be some good news all around on the issue that brought out Ms. Lester's comments on day-trippers - the controversy surrounding Cross Sound Ferry's long held desire to land a car ferry from Connecticut somewhere on the South Fork.

A deal is being cooked up on the North Fork for Cross Sound Ferry's state-of-the-art Sea Jet, a high-speed passenger-only ferry, to dock in Riverhead and Greenport. Officials there, including Riverhead Town Supervisor Vinny Villella and Village Mayor David Kapell, see such service as "a passage to prosperity," according to The Suffolk Times, while The Suffolk Times itself sees it as a way both to reduce traffic on the main roads to Orient Point and to boost tourism.

And, if it moves Cross Sound's eye from the South to the North Fork in an acceptable way, it will make East Hamptoners happy too.