Smooth Sailing? 9/13/12


This summer, despite a lot of grumbling from residents who saw it as a potential nightmare, the Peconic Bay Water Jitney came to Long Wharf. While the service got off to a somewhat slow start (those fears of all the horrors the ferry would bring failed to materialize) and by August, ridership had risen 30 percent. As a result, the Hampton Jitney, which runs the service, was thrilled.

So thrilled, in fact, they have extended the service through October 1 — that’s a month longer than expected and a bonus for those of us who didn’t find time to ride the ferry during the summer. That also means residents of the North Fork now have a convenient way to travel to Sag Harbor for this weekend’s HarborFest activities. And next weekend? We here on the South Fork can reciprocate by visiting Greenport’s well-regarded Maritime Festival — many of us possibly for the first time.

This new relationship between our two fair villages has been a great thing for residents on both sides of the water — and by the way, we don’t hear any businesses complaining, so it must’ve worked out for at least some of them.

But there is a cautionary tale in this story. And that is, be careful.

Ferries are, in fact, illegal in Sag Harbor. The village has passed a temporary law to allow the passenger ferry for this season only. That law sunsets on October 31, and the village will have to consider whether or not to renew it for summer 2013 — assuming those who run the service would like to offer it again.

While the route between Sag Harbor and Greenport represents a small-scale operation, Sag Harbor must be careful here to maintain control and make sure the Peconic Bay Water Jitney doesn’t grow to something beyond the scale of what the village can control.

Because when you’re located at the water’s edge at the end of Long Island, all destinations are potential targets. Montauk … Manhattan … Foxwoods.

While we have no idea what the business plans are for the future of the Peconic Bay ferry, and if it includes expansion to other destinations, the village has to cover itself.

That’s what it needs to spend this winter doing. There are a lot of questions to consider. By allowing one ferry company in, do you automatically open yourselves up to others? What control does the village have, if any, in legislating what destinations a private ferry company operating from its shores might serve? What about boat size? Can the village put a limit on that?

We’d hate to see the Peconic Bay Water Jitney service end after this somewhat successful inaugural season. We think they’ve done a great job of addressing concerns and making the experience an enjoyable one for passengers. And with the village poised to take over ownership and maintenance of Long Wharf in the months to come, we’d also hate to see an end to the additional revenue the dockage fee for the ferry is bringing into the village’s coffers.

So the village needs to proceed with caution. In the months to come, we advise the village board to let its lawyers do what they do best and figure out how Sag Harbor can protect itself from “ferries gone wild” while still allowing services like the Greenport-Sag Harbor connection, which has opened up a whole new possibility for folks on both forks.

It really has been great, but we also understand the potential that is there.

And it’s that potential which has us both excited …. and nervous.