Passenger ferry service proposed for a route between Sag Harbor and Greenport moved one step closer to reality after the Sag Harbor Village Board decided to schedule a hearing on temporarily lifting a local law that would have prohibited it.
The 53-person passenger ferry operated by the company that owns Hampton Jitney would run 14 daily loops from Mitchell Park in Greenport to Long Wharf, during a trial period ending Oct. 31.
Proposed road transportation to and from Sag Harbor to meet the ferries would be provided by vans operated by the Hampton Jitney. Stops would be at the Bridgehampton Commons, in East Hampton and Wainscott, two on Route 114, and there would be connections to pubic transit for those heading west or into Springs. A modest charge for riding in the vans would be charged, Jeff Lynch, Hampton Jitney’s president, has said.
Ferry-bound passengers would be dropped off at Marine Park in Sag Harbor, where they could use public restrooms before boarding on Long Wharf.
Speaking at a village board meeting Tuesday, Mr. Lynch said that if the ferry proved viable, the company would hope to sign a lease and pay for the use of Long Wharf. He said that the operating company, Peconic Bay Water Jitney, must be licensed and franchised by Suffolk County. Response Marine of Mattituck has been hired as a partner, he said.
At Tuesday’s village board meeting Mr. Lynch said, “I live in the village, too. I think it’s worth trying, I am willing to pack it in if it doesn’t work. There is no public funding, I am willing to spend money to try this out.”
Bruce Tait, the chairman of the village’s harbor committee who was speaking for himself, told the board, “We need an alternative, this might be one of them.”
“Originally I thought this was dangerous, due to the traffic issue,” he said. As he has studied it further, he said he realized that it is important to consider options for the village’s summer gridlock.
On Monday, the Sag Harbor Harbor Committee discussed the ferry plan, which resulted in a letter of support to the village board.
Nada Barry, a Sag Harbor resident since 1948 and one of the founders of its chamber of commerce, spoke on behalf of its board of directors. “They would like to see this done,” she said.
“We are connected by bodies of water, not separated,” said Pat Mundus, a Greenport resident with family and friends on the South Fork. She said she likes to come to Sag harbor for dinner and movies, and hopes that the operators will consider the needs of locals.
She said that Greenport’s transportation system is a step ahead of the South Fork’s, since the Long Island Rail Road, Hampton Jitney, and Shelter Island ferry drops passengers within 100 feet of the waterfront. She also said that she spoke to the supervisor of the Town of Shelter Island, who said that 70 percent of its traffic is just passing through to get from one fork to the other.
Pierce Hance, a onetime Sag Harbor mayor, said that ferry service has been discussed for 20 years, and an East End plan always ideally included railroad, bus, and water transportation. “I’m not against the ferries,” he said, but wished there was more time to think it through. He also said that the applicants should pay substantially for the use of Long Wharf, since they are a private enterprise. He expressed concern that the proposal was unclear about who exactly is the licensed ferry company, and whether it is a seasonal or year-round proposal.
Mayor Brian Gilbride responded that the proposal is for a pilot project for three to four months, but that an extension might be considered.
He said, “I can tell you that it’s not going to cost the village anything.”
“I hope this will happen, ” said Linda Schwartz, a year-round resident, who added her hope that ferry service to Montauk might follow. She said that a broader audience, including young restaurant and bar patrons, would take the ferry to Montauk, which would alleviate traffic and drunk driving.
Alexandra Leigh-Hunt told the village board that the proposal was “the most sensible idea that has come along in a long, long time. I certainly would use the ferry. It’s energy conscious. It’s a terrific idea.”
Peter Hansen, a Sag Harbor resident, told the board that since he cannot drive, “I am persuaded by this.”
A voice against the proposal was Patricia Donovan, who is a resident of Bay Street. She said that she was not pleased with previous proposals because of the additional cars that would flow into the village. “This idea that all these classy people are going to sit on a bus . . . they’re going to come to park on Bay Street and High Street, where I live. I am against this very much. This will be detrimental to this village.”
After deliberation, with public comments in favor outnumbering those against, all but one trustee voted in favor of the hearing. Timothy Culver was the sole no vote, saying that nobody has shown how the plan would reduce traffic. He also said that he is uncomfortable granting temporary uses that are prohibited by the zoning code. “Everyone might want this ferry, but how do we prevent another one, that maybe we don’t want?” he asked.
Mayor Gilbride said that he shared his concerns but that “a pilot program lets us look at everything.”
A hearing was scheduled for Tuesday, April 10 at 6 p.m.