We were surprised and disappointed by the general tone among most Sag Harbor Village Board members, who voted this week to approve passenger ferries docking at Long Wharf. With one exception, the board voted in favor of a change to the village’s laws that would allow the Hampton Jitney to take on and disembark passengers there, as part of a service linking Sag Harbor and Greenport. As almost any boater can tell you, the waters around Sag Harbor and Shelter Island have become incredibly busy in recent years. Adding to that with the regular ferry trips would seem unwise.
Mayor James Larocca made a peculiar observation that a ferry had briefly operated from Sag Harbor about 10 years ago and landside traffic problems did not result, implying that this time around would be no different. That makes little sense, considering that in the past decade, Sag Harbor traffic has become horrific, with traffic control officers scrambling to keep everything moving even on weekdays in the summer. He also made the questionable assertion that a state-mandated environmental review process would provide a safeguard. We wish this were true, but over the years the value of the so-called SEQRA (for State Environmental Quality Review Act) reports’ effectiveness has been watered down and they are a far-less formidable tool to assess the effects of development than they once were.
The question may come down to that of what kind of village Sag Harbor wants to be. Does it want to increasingly cater to transient visitors who might spend a little money in the shops? Or does it want to put its residents’ wishes first by working to limit crowds and traffic whenever possible? These issues have been at the core of debates about the village’s essential nature for close to 40 years. Though the mayor said during the conversation about the ferry that he was not comfortable making predictions about the future, that is, in fact, a large part of the job of any mayor. Understanding how today’s decisions affect how tomorrow will look is an essential function of government. The responsibility should not have been so casually brushed off in this case.