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Mar 14, 2012 10:06 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Sag Harbor, Greenport Ferry Idea Inches Along

Mar 14, 2012 10:31 AM

A proposed passenger ferry service pilot program that would run between Sag Harbor and Greenport this summer inched forward on Tuesday when the Sag Harbor Village Board voted 4-1 to set a public hearing on a new law that would allow ferries in Sag Harbor, a forbidden use under current village code.

Jim Ryan, principal of Response Marine, and Geoff Lynch, the president of the Hampton Jitney, jointly pitched a plan for their so-called Peconic Bay Water Jitney last month. A 53-foot low-wake catamaran would ferry 53 passengers at a time between Long Wharf in Sag Harbor and Greenport. Unlike previous ferry pitches, which sank in years past largely because of traffic concerns, this latest idea brings the Hampton Jitney on board in an effort to reduce the traffic impact by encouraging riders to use a proposed bus shuttle link to the ferry launches.

This week, Mr. Ryan and Mr. Lynch shared a few new details. The shuttles would loop through Jitney stops or Suffolk County transit stops in Bridgehampton, including at Bridgehampton Commons, Sag Harbor, Greenport and East Hampton, with Sag Harbor’s Pierson High School parking lots as proposed sites for July and August. The shuttle—whose seating capacity could be 13, 28 or 48, depending on demand—would drive down Route 114 to Marine Park on Bay Street, near the Long Wharf. Mr. Lynch said this would allow passengers to use the restrooms near the village harbormaster’s office and reduce congestion on Long Wharf.

The pair told the Village Harbor Committee on Monday that they are now eyeing the northwest corner of the wharf as a suitable spot for a moored barge, from which the ferry could launch.

“It’s always easy to say no and turn it away,” Sag Harbor Village Mayor Brian Gilbride told the Village Board on Tuesday. “I think sometimes we have to really open the door and let some of these things happen and see how it falls out.”

The mayor did note, however, that he still has some concerns about how the plan would pan out. He, along with Trustees Robby Stein, Edward Gregory and Bruce Stafford, voted in favor of holding a hearing at the board’s next meeting on Tuesday, April 10. They, too, pointed out lingering concerns such as the traffic impact.

Trustee Tim Culver was the sole holdout, voting against the hearing. “I get a little queasy granting people temporary uses for things that are prohibited by the zoning,” he said, adding that while it’s good to inspire innovation, he was hesitant without a study showing that the service would reduce car traffic.

On Monday, the Harbor Committee voted to recommend that the Village Board move forward with the plan. Committee Chairman Bruce Tait described the summer traffic jams on Friday and Sunday in Sag Harbor as being of “epic proportions” and observed that most people will opt to drive rather than take a bus, even for short rides. Mr. Lynch and Mr. Ryan acknowledged that but maintained that their shuttle plan would help address the issue.

In the end, the committee decided the plan fits with the village’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, which states that ferries should be considered for Sag Harbor. Mr. Tait listed as concerns pedestrian safety on the Long Wharf, the placement of the barge or boat for embarking and disembarking so as not to interfere with traditional uses like fishing, and other money-making opportunities through dockage.

On Tuesday, speaking before the Village Board as a private citizen, Mr. Tait said that although he first thought the proposal was “dangerous,” he has since turned in favor of the idea as a potential traffic minimizer, noting that the Hampton Jitney has now become de rigueur for East End residents traveling to the city.

Members of the public who addressed the Village Board Tuesday fell on both sides of the ferry issue, though several applauded the board’s decision to keep the plan afloat. Those in favor expressed enthusiasm for connecting the villages by water, opportunities for improved commerce in Sag Harbor, and the energy consciousness of mass transportation. Those against voiced worries that ferry riders would still drive to the launch in Sag Harbor, worsening traffic, and that there is little time to plan and prepare before the proposed start time around Memorial Day. Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, in an interview last month, labeled a Memorial Day start “ambitious.”

Nada Barry, owner of The Wharf Shop, speaking for Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber would like to see the ferry on a trial basis. Patricia Donovan, a Bay Street resident, voiced opposition, citing parking difficulties in the village in the summer. “I think they just want to make a pile of money and get started on something that will be very detrimental to our village,” she said.

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I used to live in Greenport and commute to Sag Harbor. This would have helped me a ton back in the day. My choices otherwise were to drive over two ferries (expensive), take my bike over the Island and then through North Haven (taxing) or driving around (mileage). I hope this happens.
By Mr Suffolk (113), Twin Forks on Mar 15, 12 10:56 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Mar 15, 12 8:35 PM
Of course it's going to increase traffic. Nobody is going to take a bus when they can drive themselves.
By Tay (35), Hampton Bays on Mar 16, 12 11:14 AM