December 13, 2006
Water Taxis Coming To Southampton?
Water taxi, anyone?
|Independent / Gordon M. Grant
Officials in Southampton Town have applied for a grant to fund a study of the concept of water taxi service from Shinnecock to Riverhead and the North Fork.
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On the heels of a proposal for an East Quogue water taxi that sparked a series of concerns among residents opposed to the concept, Southampton Town Supervisor Skip Heaney announced this week that plans are in place to consider water taxi service from Shinnecock to Riverhead and the North Fork.
Currently there is "no hard, fast plan," but the supervisor said the town board is "exploring the possibility of running a water taxi from some location in the Shinnecock Canal area, which is a very active waterway linking the Peconic Estuary to the Shinnecock Bay."
The idea is to investigate the possibility of grant funding for the project, which the supervisor believes would spur economic development in the area.
The board must determine potential linkage possibilities, including whether the town could run service to the east side of the Shinnecock Inlet as well as to the restaurants located on the west side of the inlet, where there is a docking facility. Heaney pointed out that a transportation study done a few years back determined that the town might consider "trying to link up the Shinnecock Inlet area with locations on the North Fork," including Jamesport and the Riverhead area, with Greenport a possibility.
"We really haven't designated any particular area but we're applying for some grant funding to see how we fare," said Heaney. The town would "probably look to work with Suffolk County" in terms of determining a location for water taxi service.
"It seems to me that we have opportunities to promote some economic activity by linking some of the towns or some of the key locations within the towns," he said.
Heaney believes the "idea [makes] sense, given the fact that we are moving forward on our plans for a Southampton Maritime Museum in the canal area."
A Shinnecock Canal Public Access study, done approximately eight years ago, made recommendations on how to improve the canal area as a destination for residents and tourists alike to enjoy. Water taxi service, said Heaney, "seemed to have some merit as an idea."
Southampton Public Transportation and Traffic Safety Director Thomas F. Neely said while the water taxi idea is under consideration, "there's a lot of work to be done. Right now, it's nothing more than a concept." He agreed a water taxi could tie in to the redevelopment of the canal area.
According to Neely and Southampton Town Building Project Coordinator Walter Bundy, funding would come in the form of federal grant monies administered through the New York State Department of Transportation's Ferryboat Discretionary Program.
The town, said Neely, orginally requested approximately $240,000, about 80% of the cost of proposed work. The state was supportive of the town's initial application.
"They're keenly interested in the project," agreed Heaney.
Because the state has expressed interest in the plan, said Bundy, the next step is to re-submit the application for funding. Southampton Town would seek funding in the fiscal year 2008 budget and, if awarded, the town would receive grant monies in November of 2007.
Bundy said since the state has expressed support for the application, the new, more detailed application would request funding for infrastructure and other facets of the water taxi plan.
Once he learned that the state had expressed interest in the prospect, Heaney asked Neely and Bundy to work on the packaging of that plan.
Neely said the town is hoping to work with private ferryboat operators such as Cliff Clark of the South Ferry company and Mike Eagan of South Bay Cruises "to tighten up the proposal."
Bundy pointed out that although the town "would like to own" a water taxi service, "we don't want to run it."
While attending a Greenport Village Board work session last week, Neely presented the concept of possible ferry service from the Shinnecock Canal to Greenport. The board embraced the idea with enthusiasm.
Heaney acknowledged, though, that not everyone might be supportive of the Shinnecock water taxi plan. "Trust me, you'll find someone who'll be opposed to it."
In recent months, members of the Southampton Town Civic Coalition have been out collecting signatures on a petition protesting an idea floated by some members of the Southampton Town Board for possible water ferry/taxi service in the East Quogue area.
Protestors say the beach in question is a barrier beach, too small for increased traffic, with no parking; passengers would have to park miles away and board a shuttle to the ferry.
Heaney emphasized that the water taxi plan is "totally independent" of the East Quogue proposal. This idea, he said, "makes so much more sense than linking up a dead end street in a hamlet to an ocean beach."
Neely agreed that the Shinnecock water taxi concept is "separate" from the Quogue proposal.
Of the water taxi proposal for the Shinnecock Canal, Heaney said, "I think it's a great concept. People want to do day trips" to areas such as the North Fork, where he would personally enjoy taking a water taxi to spend an afternoon shopping and having lunch. He would seek to work out parking arrangements with Suffolk County for areas near the Shinnecock Canal boat basin or near Meschutt Beach.
"The idea was to link up multiple places where there is lots of economic activity," said Heaney.