The Sag Harbor Village Board voted on Tuesday to amend the village code allowing for limited seasonal passenger ferry use at the end of Long Wharf. The vote was 3-to-1, with one trustee, Aidan Corish, opposed, and another, Bob Plumb, not present due to quarantining for Covid.
"Don't overpredict the horribles, without stating some of the positives that might occur," was the advice of Mayor James Larocca, who voted for the code change.
At the hearing preceding the vote that night, lines were drawn between those who believed Long Wharf was still a working wharf, and Sag Harbor still a port town, and those who felt that Long Wharf has morphed into an urban park that was not suitable to host a ferry landing.
"The idea that we will turn the wharf into a departure lounge for a ferry service is something that I have a real issue with," said Mr. Corish.
"It's a wharf," said Anthony Vermandois, an architect with an office on Union Street. "It's a place for ships to discharge cargo." He said for the first 275 years of Sag Harbor's existence it was a working port, "not a marina for oligarchs' yachts."
Peconic Jitney, a subsidiary of the Hampton Jitney, wants to operate a passenger-only ferry service connecting Greenport's Mitchell Park to Sag Harbor's Long Wharf during the summer and shoulder months, with service concluding by Columbus Day. In April, the Suffolk County Legislature granted the Peconic Jitney a franchise license to operate the ferry with the condition that both villages agree on the landing areas.
"Long Wharf has a history of ferry services going back to the 1800s," Geoffrey Lynch, president of the Hampton Jitney, told the village board. "Yes, the wharf has been updated and beautified but it is still a working dock."
Liz Vail, the village attorney, explained that the expected Jitney application to use the wharf will have its own special permit review and public hearing. The board was only voting on allowing ferry service, unspecific to any application.
The crux of Mr. Corish's criticisms centered on a lack of understanding about what kind of ferry service the village needed, and the suitability of Long Wharf to handle such service. He said there was no lighting on the wharf and that it could be dangerous for passengers getting on and off a ferry in the dark. None of the infrastructure necessary to make a considered decision on whether the Long Wharf was a suitable place to land a ferry was in place, he said.
"I feel really uncomfortable giving my permission to an activity we don't understand," he said. He proposed the "transient dock," a floating dock to the west of the Long Wharf, might be a better spot to land the ferry, or, perhaps a smaller water taxi. If the village felt the need for passenger ferry service, the transient dock could be redesigned for accepting ferry traffic, he suggested. "I think Long Wharf is the wrong place for a ferry," he said. He was particularly worried about parking, "I don't know where these people are going to park, and I don't see any study that explains to me how the village is going to accomplish that."
Myrna Davis, reading from a letter written by the board of Save Sag Harbor, said the ferry service "may create serious disruptions for village residents." She ticked off a list of worries, including damage to the newly renovated wharf, inadequate public sanitary facilities to accommodate the ferry passengers, noise, fumes, and a "rolling wake" in the harbor. Save Sag Harbor also expressed concern that allowing for ferry use in the code could open the door to larger ferries attempting to use the wharf. She said the Shelter Island ferry made a passenger ferry somewhat redundant and called for a comprehensive master plan for the village.
Mayor Larocca took issue with the letter, specifically a charge that the village is making decisions without giving residents "adequate information."
"There's no need to insult the village when you're asking us to consider your point of view," he said, adding that many of the charges were without supporting data. About the rolling wake, he said, "I'm a boater. I was a naval officer. I hold Coast Guard licenses. When you make a charge, support it."
Frank Ahimaz, a Madison Street resident, asked that the village conduct an impact study. He urged the board to "do a one summer trial and do the analysis," about benefits to the village businesses and impacts on the residents.
With the ferry use voted upon and accepted into the code, the next step is for the Peconic Jitney to submit a formal application. That application, said Mr. Larocca, will be subject to the State Environmental Quality Review Act, which compels local governments to consider environmental impacts of their decisions equally with social and economic factors. The review, he said, will be "supported by outside consultants with expertise in the matter." He said 10 years ago when the Peconic Jitney ran the ferry for a pilot season, "traffic jams generated by the ferry" were not an issue.
"Let's try to keep the discussion fact-based, add as much data as we can get so we don't have to argue over projections of what may or may not happen. One thing I've learned in my life," he said, "is that I have no idea what the future holds, most of the time."