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Extra fee for Greenport-Shelter Island ferry back under consideration

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Greenport Village Trustee Doug Roberts has proposed a plan to establish a new revenue stream for road repairs by charging drivers traveling to Shelter Island on North Ferry an extra fee.
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Greenport Village Trustee Doug Roberts has proposed a plan to establish a new revenue stream for road repairs by charging drivers traveling to Shelter Island on North Ferry an extra fee.

The Greenport Village Board is pressing on with an idea to charge North Ferry a per-car fee for its Greenport-Shelter Island traffic. In a split vote at its meeting Thursday night, the board solicited outside opinions from lawyers after the village’s own attorney suggested against levying the fee.

But the plan may already be dead in the water. While village trustees try to determine the legality of such a ferry fee, representatives from the ferry company say they aren’t willing to support any new charges. And a local Suffolk County legislator, ―who could vote to approve such a fee, ― hasn’t come out in favor of the idea either, saying the county would need to study the effects a fee would have on other ferry agreements across the county.

“While this would be good for Greenport, and I understand they bear the ferry traffic coming through there … this would have ramifications for all the ferries,” said Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue).

Bridget Fleming (D-Noyack), who represents Shelter Island in the legislature, said she hasn’t been contacted about any ferry fee and didn’t have an opinion yet on the proposal. “I have not personally been approached by anybody from Greenport about the issue,” Ms. Fleming said. “But I’m open to discussing their concerns and seeing what works and what seems not to be working.”

The ferry fee was one of the talking points of the last Greenport election, when now-Trustees Doug Roberts and Jack Martilotta proposed charging the North Ferry one dollar for every car it shuttles to the Island. Mr. Roberts said the fee would generate a “potential six-figure revenue swing” for the village, which could then be put towards making road repairs.

But at a March 17 Village Board meeting, Village Attorney Joe Prokop said the plan wouldn’t be legal. He cited a 2009 U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that found the Bridgeport Port Authority had been unconstitutionally collecting excessive taxes from a local ferry company.

Mr. Roberts pushed the board to seek a second opinion and at Thursday’s meeting and rallied three of the four board members present to approve a resolution asking for “pro-bono third party legal opinions” on the issue. He said a positive opinion could provide “leverage” for the Village Board in future negotiations with North Ferry.

“It’s being diligent to go ask around and I don’t see any harm in hearing other people’s opinions,” he told the Suffolk Times. “It is a very important issue and if we’re not going to be able to come through on this for the people of the village, I want to make sure we’ve tried every possible path.”

Greenport Mayor George Hubbard Jr., who has a business on the Island, agreed, saying it couldn’t hurt to get another opinion and emphasized the vote was not a reflection on Mr. Prokop’s abilities. Village Trustee Julia Robins, who had initially come out against the idea, eventually backed the resolution, citing Mr. Hubbard’s advice.

The resolution was opposed by Village Trustee Mary Bess Phillips, who said the Suffolk County Legislature had the local authority to set a fee on the ferry company. The state could also impose a fee, but it would have to install a toll to collect the money, she added. Ms. Phillips also said North Ferry was working with the village and would need to apply to the county for approval for a larger vessel soon.

“I think it’s better for us to work with them to build it into their fee schedule,” she said. “I think we’re moving forward on this.”

But that wasn’t backed up by Stella Lagudis,― general manager of the Heights Property Owners Corporation, which owns North Ferry. Ms. Lagudis seemed surprised by the implication that the ferry would be open to adding a fee.

“We’re trying to work with the village with respect to traffic and signage and things of that nature,” she said. “But we’re not supportive of a surcharge at all … and we’re not working with them, not in that regard.”

Ms. Lagudis also said it would be up to the Suffolk County Legislature, not the Village Board, to set such a fee.

Mr. Krupski said he understood parking was at a premium in Greenport and that traffic around the ferry had become an issue. But he was unsure if the legislature would be able to transfer the revenues from the fee to the village directly. The current fee structure for North Ferry is set “based on an economic formula on what it costs to run the ferries.”

Mr. Krupski also said a $1-per-car fee on the North Ferry would set a precedent for all other ferries in Suffolk County and spur other municipalities to demand their own agreements.

“All the other villages would come forward,” he said.