Shelter Island Reporter
March 14, 2002

Prose & Comments
SEEDS meeting tonight is perfect opportunity to discuss alternate ferry service

By Stuart Hample

     In any public forum on the East End relating to transportation, when one mentions the possibility of the establishment of a ferry service between New London and the South Fork, itís easy, no matter how civilized the discourse, to sniff the scent of opposition in the air. It is arguable that this is motivated by a suspicion that the other side wants to dump its dirty laundry in your yard. And vice versa.
     Probably the only way to dissipate this discord is to hang all the facts on the line and let the sunshine expose the dark patches for everyone to see.
     Then (to milk the metaphor) we will be able to iron out the wrinkles.
     Here on the Island we see the proposal for a South Fork Ferry as a blessing, while it seems some folks to the south see it as a threat.
     The issue is the capacity of our ferry companies to handle the increasing number of vehicles that come to the Island from the mainland. For years the ratio worked; there was fairly free flow on and off the Rock. But in the last number of years, traffic has expanded exponentially. With the result that, at certain periods, access to and egress from Shelter Island diminishes alarmingly.  What to do, eh?
     Both ferry companies have addressed this issue by commissioning bigger, more efficient boats, showing that they donít have their heads in the sand.
     But if the trend ó as it appears to be ó continues, due to more travel here since 9/11 and supported by school enrollments, restaurant business and other quantifiable data points (not to mention interminable ferry lines at crunch times) the ferries will be unable to get ahead of the glut of increased traffic.
     As such, we seek only a seasonal bit of relief at the margin.
     Itís not that we wish to keep people off the Island, rather that we want those coming here as their final destination, as well as those who commute -- some for pressing medical reasons (itís heartbreaking to hear the people who must sit anxiously in long traffic lines when they leave the Island for daily chemotherapy treatments) ó to have easier access. Whatís more, a ferry directly from New London to an easterly landing would ease the burden on the south shore itself by having some of the traffic heading west while the bulk is still heading east.
     To deal with this pesky transportation problem, there are two options: (1) Think parochially and do nothing so that inevitably it mushrooms into an unacceptable, unsolvable mess, or (2) Think regionally and augment a plan to add height-of-season ferry service from New England to accommodate those who regularly travel from there to south shore communities ó while relieving Shelter Island ferries from attempting to carry beyond capacity and becoming an obstruction to transportation on the East End.
     The facts of the situation clearly indicate that it is more efficient for the region to have boats bearing 90 cars land at an open space that leads directly to their ultimate destination, than to have these vehicles proceed through three little towns with the expense of time and money necessary to cross two bodies of water on two little ferries.
     Tonight there is a SEEDS (Sustainable East End Development Strategies) meeting at the Shelter Island School starting at 6:30 p.m., at which this subject will be brought up. Itís your chance to speak out about your concerns for the Island. Accordingly, it will be advantageous to have as many Shelter Islanders in attendance as possible to weigh in on this crucial matter. Come to state your opinions and to ask questions. Come even if only to listen to the back-and- forth discussions so you will be able to make an informed decision if, some time down the road, youíre asked to  vote one way or the other. There also will be a meeting of the Citizens for a South Fork Ferry on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at Edward and Patricia Shillingburgís, 4 West Neck Road. The meeting is open to all.

Mr. Hample is a member of the Citizens for a South Fork Ferry.