South Fork Ferry
Caracciolo visits local group to discuss Conn./S.F. ferry
By Jason Shields
Shelter Island Reporter - October 18, 2001
    ìIím impressed by this grass-roots, dedicated group and look forward to working with them,î said County Legislator Mike Caracciolo about the Shelter Island-based organization, Citizens for a South Fork Ferry (CSFF).
    The legislator met with the CSFF at the home of one of its members on Saturday to update the group on his efforts towards finding a solution to the East Endís traffic problems. The legislator told the group that he has filed a resolution calling on New York State to sponsor a feasibility study on direct ferry service between New England and the Town of East Hampton.
    He was also there to gather input from Islanders like CSFF President Bob Drake. Mr. Drake has taken the lead in studying what proponents of the plan say is the most suitable site for a ferry terminal on the South Fork ó the west end of Napeague State Park on the bay side of the fork. Attempts in the past, most notably by Cross Sound Ferry, which operates vehicle and passenger service between Orient Point and New London, have met with staunch opposition from some East Hampton residents, including East Hampton Star publisher Helen Rattray, who owns property in The Promised Land, a small residential neighborhood that borders the state land. East Hampton Town has a ferry moratorium on its books, but Mr. Drake cited two reasons he thought the local law may not affect this most recent proposal: he did not think the law applies to state lands, and its legitimacy is questionable. He said that when the law was being drafted, ìThings got diluted and political when the discussions turned to high-speed ferries and casino boats.î
   Mr. Caracciolo, on Monday, said, ìThereís no denying that at this point, that additional ferry service is needed. This issue can no longer be ignored. The citizens of Shelter Island and the North Fork demand it.î His district also includes Riverhead and Southold towns, two municipalities struggling with increased traffic and congestion.The legislator alluded to next yearís gubernatorial race as a possible temporary impediment to the direct ferry initiative, saying it would be prudent for
those involved with the movement to wait and see whom they will be lobbying. Mr. Caracciolo said the entire process could take two to three years and that ìthe process needs to be initiated now. We need to take it step by step andî his resolution ìcertainly would be the first step.î
    Mr. Drake said that in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York City, initiatives like that undertaken by CSFF are not a priority at the state level. Thatís okay with him. ìWe should wait until the next election cycle.., we need from now until the next governor is in place to get as big a consensus as possible.î
    The legislator called Saturdayís meeting with CSFF ìvery constructiveî and said its members are ìin line with what is needed ó theyíre willing to roll up their sleeves and work with myself, other elected officials and other East End townsî to accomplish this goal. He said traffic from Cross Sound Ferry not only extends ferry lines and brings more traffic here, it also affects the villages and hamlets in Southold Township and places more strain on county and state roads on the East End.
Mr. Drake said the Napeague site is perfect for a slip and terminal. A now unused track spur from the Montauk branch of the Long Island Rail Road to an old fish processing plant, part of which is now an aquaculture facility, provides a right of way to build a road from Route 27 to the site. The spur could also be used as an intermodal transportation link, he said, where ferry riders could take a shuttle train to the main line.
    Cross Sound Ferry did a site study of the area about five years ago, Mr. Drake said, and determined it was well-suited for a ferry terminal. CSFF has received a letter from Cross Sound Ferry supporting the groupís initiative and indicating the ferry company would be interested in running a ferry service if it ever is allowed there.
    Support for CSFF also is coming from Southold Citizens for Safe Roads and its lead organizer, Thor Hanson, a retired U.S. Navy vice admiral. State Assemblywoman Pat Acampora also has expressed her support for CSFF. Second District Legislator George 0. Guldi, whose district includes East Hampton, is opposed to the ferry because he is not convinced that part of the reason for the Shelter Island ferriesí long lines is attributable to vehicles traveling between the South Fork and New England. He also said an interstate transportation project would fall under the purview of the federal government, not the state.
    But Mr. Caracciolo believes federal agencies, other than the Coast Guard, which would oversee licensing, would not be involved in the process.
    Mr. Drake disagrees with Mr. Guldiís first statement. He cited four separate studies, which included origin and destination questions, conducted by North Ferry Company and Cross Sound Ferry between 1985 and 2001. From those he has concluded that vehicles traveling between New England and the South Fork make up anywhere from 17 to 31 percent of the total number of vehicles carried by these ferries, depending on the days of the week and the season. He said st Cross Sound Ferry has the ability to provide hard origin and destination data and may be able to conduct a conclusive study with the help of state funding.
    At the risk of sounding like an alarmist, Mr. Drake said he has heard at the Connecticut casino, Mohegan Sun, plans ìa huge expansionî of its current facility ìthat will draw high rollersî and attract ìmore South Forkers.î That would mean even more pressure on the Shelter Island ferries. He also alluded to the East Endís lack of evacuation routes and id a ferry service such as the one he advocating would provide at least a modicum of relief in the case of a catastrophic event.
    Consensus building and endorsements are at the top of CSFFís agenda at the moment, as is support in the forms of bodies to do the work and funding to support the initiative. The CSFF has started ad campaign and has its own web page where people can find information about the initiative and how they can help. The address is
   ìWeíre going to ask (Town Supervisor) Gerry Siller for a local resolutionî supporting the proposal ìand want to build a coalition of supervisors, mayors, chambers of commerceî and garner support from everyone, :including ìinterested parties from the South Fork,î said Mr. Drake. He said group would even ìreach out to New Englandersî some of whom. he thinks ìwill be supportive.î
    Approximately 25 people attended Saturdayís meeting, many of whom ìare politically knowledgeable people who know the lay of the land at the state level,î Mr. Drake said. He is counting on Shelter Islandís vast resource of affluent and influential residents to help in making a New England-to-South Fork ferry a reality.