- The legal battle between the Town of East Hampton and Francarl Realty, owners of the Montauk terminal from which the passenger ferries of the Viking Fleet arrive and depart, rages on as the two parties debate the merits of making high-speed and vehicle transportation ferries available on the South Fork's eastern-most departure point.
The federal lawsuit brought by Francarl Realty and the Viking Fleet challenges East Hampton local law 40, established in 1997, which prohibits car ferries and fast ferries from operating out of Montauk Harbor. The Montauk ferry company filed suit against the town in 2005, though a large portion of the suit was dismissed according to attorney Richard Cahn, who is representing the town in the upcoming hearing in Central Islip on Monday, Feb. 2.
An appellate court found that there should be a hearing on whether the local benefit of the law outweighs any impact to interstate commerce that may result from the ban, primarily pertaining to fast ferries.
High speed ferries, such as the one pictured above heading for Block
Island, have not been as beneficial to the North Fork as the vehicle ferries,
according to Southold Supervisor Scott Russell. Fast ferries and vehicle
ferries are both currently restricted from docking in East Hampton by town law.
While conventional ferries operate out of Montauk, servicing Block Island, New London and Martha's Vineyard, the town maintains that fast ferries would attract "considerably more traffic," Cahn explained, and if allowed would overwhelm the hamlet's already strained infrastructure.
The law prohibits vehicle ferries or "fast" walk-on ferries from docking anywhere within the Town of East Hampton and is "absolutely needed," Cahn contended, citing the swell in congestion that resulted in Southold when high-speed ferries began operating out of Orient Point in 1994.
Southold Supervisor Scott Russell claims the fast ferry "has presented some substantial problems" for the North Fork. "The issue is intensity of use," Russell explained, maintaining that while the vehicle ferry (in operation since the turn of the last century) has been a boom to both sides of Long Island Sound, the fast ferry has been detrimental to the town's infrastructure. "It's not traffic that's beneficial to the town," Russell contended, "Passenger ferries are generally bringing commuters to points north," such as Connecticut's casinos, Providence or Boston, leaving their vehicles behind to clutter the narrow entrance to Orient Point.
While the speed ferries can cut 20 to 30 minutes off the commute in either direction, the resultant surge in travelers moving through the once sleepy hamlet of Orient Point has been too high a price to pay according to Russell. "When you live on the East End of Long Island you don't have a lot of options," he reasoned, "I'm willing to sacrifice a faster commute to restore that hamlet to what it once was."
The previous Southold supervisor included the town in Francarl Realty's litigation against East Hampton in 2005, hoping that an additional fast ferry to Montauk would lighten the load on the North Fork, however upon entering office Russell withdrew the town's support. "It's our fight to fight, it's not my place to take them [East Hampton] to court," he claimed, adding that Southold was currently in pending litigation with Cross Sound Ferry
to reduce traffic.
According to Cahn, Francarl Realty and the Viking Fleet claim that they have the right to upgrade their transportation business under federal law, however, as of Wednesday, Jan. 28, representatives of the corporations have declined to comment on the matter at this time.