Opposition to a passenger ferry, proposed to operate between Greenport and Long Wharf in Sag Harbor, was heard Tuesday night at a public hearing to amend a Sag Harbor Village law prohibiting such use.
The predominant fear was the potential increase in traffic and parking, already a problem in the village. Many who spoke on Tuesday night were current or former village officials, who spoke as such or as residents of Sag Harbor. The tone of the meeting differed greatly from that at a hearing last month on a special temporary permit that would allow the ferry to operate from May 1 through Oct. 1 as part of a pilot program.
“If the ferry impacts Sag Harbor in a negative way, the village will not have to tell me to shut it down,” said Jeff Lynch, president of Hampton Jitney and a partner in the proposed passenger ferry service. Living in the village and owning a business on the East End, he said that he does not want to offer a service that does not benefit the community.
Mr. Lynch listened quietly to people’s concerns on Tuesday before approaching the podium to announce a new solution, in addition to those already presented, to prevent ferry passengers’ use of parking spots in the village. Mr. Lynch has secured a tentative lease with the Sag Harbor School District, to use the district’s parking lot on Montauk Avenue. During weekends in June, and daily when school is out, the lot would provide approximately 30 parking spaces. The Jitney would provide an 11-passenger shuttle van to and from the wharf at no charge.
“I am willing to invest in the possibility of an improved transportation system on the East End,” he said. The solution to the East End’s transportation problems, he said, is going to have to come from a public-private partnership. He promised that marketing efforts and dollars would promote sea travel without the use of cars. Mr. Lynch had already submitted a proposal describing a shuttle route with stops in Bridgehampton and East Hampton to pick up passengers who wished to take the ferry to the North Fork. His newest plan combines this effort with buses run by Suffolk County Transit, Twin Forks Transit, and Sunrise Coach Lines, to increase public transportation to and from the villages, with a route designed to take minimal traffic down Main Street.
The loudest voice of opposition on Tuesday night was that of Pierce Hance, a former mayor of Sag Harbor. “I am not against the ferry, I am against the process,” he said, after questioning the trustees as to why the plan had not appeared before other village boards, among other things.
Others shared his concern that the approval process to amend the local law seems rushed.
“It is a pilot project,” Mayor Brian Gilbride said. “We are a historic whaling village. There are pictures of a ferry at Long Wharf from the early 1900s.” He explained that at the last hearing, which Mr. Hance did not attend, there were a fair amount of people who liked the idea. “You can have your opinion,” he said, “but ultimately, it is courageous to try it.”
The mayor explained that Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano and “anyone involved with the village” will be monitoring the progress. “We will have the ability to shut it off. If we find out it created problems, we will address the issues or discontinue the program. It is going to allow a little water traffic, a business venture that will link the North and South Forks. I look forward to seeing how it unfolds,” he said.
Chief Fabiano commended the board for “taking a chance,” as did a few other speakers. Parking is an issue, he said, “I am concerned as everyone else in the room is. . . . I see boat charters with 10 passengers,” he said. “Nobody is questioning them.” He also said it was important that the village be able to limit the number of ferries.
Anton Hagen, a member of the village zoning board, twice approached the microphone with his concerns. “Any increase in parking will squeeze the regular users out,” he said, adding that he would be “sad to see the waters in the harbor further polluted. It doesn’t flush out very well. I would ask you to make a condition that the ferry does not get fueled in Sag Harbor. I’d rather see it happen in Greenport or elsewhere. If you can’t make a condition like that,” he said, “I wouldn’t have it here at all.”
“In the mid ’70s I organized Fight the Ferries,” said John Healy. “I have heard nothing about an impact study.” He is opposed to “dumping people off at the foot of Main Street,” which he said “already doesn’t work.”
“I’m not against change, but we already have a vehicular problem in this village which isn’t working,” Mr. Healy said.
Speaking on behalf of County Legislator Jay Schneiderman and as a village resident, Jackie O’Neill commended the board for its “forward thinking.”
“It’s a pilot program, there will be kinks to work out,” she said, but the Hampton Jitney has been around for a while. “They don’t do things by half.”
“You are going to have traffic problems, with or without the boat,” said John Costello of Greenport, who participated in a ferry service in 1974 that held 140 people. Because of the down economy, he said, people will come to the East End instead of going to Europe.
“We have to solve existing transportation problems,” he said, adding that Greenport and Orient have similar issues. “All of the concerns are legitimate,” he said, but “ you will not know the answer to any of them unless you try it.” In the 1970s, the ferry he worked with brought thousands of people to Sag Harbor, he said, and “people don’t even remember that it was here.”
“Try it,” Mr. Costello said. “Government analyzes too much.”
Everyone seemed to agree that it is difficult to guess how much the public will use the service, which is to cost $20 round trip for adults.
The county’s S92 bus line between the North and South Fork can take two hours, Mr. Lynch said. “If that can be chopped by a water route, maybe there is a demand,” he said. “I am willing to try this service, and I hope the village residents and board are open-minded to have a look,” he said. “If the negatives outweigh the positives, we will end it.”
In order to move forward, in addition to an amended law from the village, the Jitney also requires the approval of the Village of Greenport and Suffolk County. A franchise application has been submitted to the county, with a public hearing scheduled for April 24. Mr. Lynch said he will most likely need a permit from the Department of Environmental Conservation, as well, for pilings on a landing dock attached to Long Wharf.
The hearing will be kept open, with public comments accepted through the next village board meeting on May 8.
In an earlier version of this story, a statement by Jackie O’Neill appeared in a misquoted form. Ms. O'Neill said that the Hampton Jitney, which would operate the ferry, does not "do things by half,” not "half-assed."