Shelter Island's ferries are vital to residents and tourists alike.  

Shelter Island's ferries are vital to residents and tourists alike.   Credit: James Carbone

Storms and high tides over the years have rarely suspended Shelter Island’s North Ferry service, but that happened twice last fall — during an October nor’easter and a November snowstorm.

“[This happens] usually much less frequently and along with a hurricane,” said North Ferry Co., Inc. general manager Bridg Hunt. “But these were inconsequential storms,” that drove tides too high for boats to connect with the ramp.

The for-profit ferry company, which is the only link between Shelter Island and Greenport and one of just two ways to leave the island by car, will undertake a $560,000 project early next year to raise a pair of ramps at the Greenport terminal in response to higher tides.

The  project will raise the heel of the ramps 14 inches and lengthen them to allow for a greater range between low and high tides, Hunt said. Costello Marine of Greenport has also begun building new bulkheads to accommodate the project.

Once completed, North Ferry will begin a similar overhaul at its Shelter Island terminal, the cost of which has yet to be calculated, said Stella Lagudis, general manager of the Shelter Island Heights Property Owners Corp., which owns the ferry company.

Shelter Island Town engineer John Cronin designed the current ramps through his former firm Cronin and Condon Consulting Engineers around 1999, when rising tides were not taken into consideration, he said.

“Quite honestly, around 2000, sea level rise was only vaguely intimated and nobody made any projections about the way things were going,” said Cronin, who is also a former ferry captain. “But when you count on ferries, you begin to realize that something is going on.”

The state Department of Environmental Conservation predicts that Long Island waters could rise from two to 10 inches in the 2020s and eight to 30 inches by the 2050s.

The South Ferry Co. Inc., which connects Shelter Island to North Haven on the South Fork, is also planning work in response to sea level rise, said South Ferry Company president Cliff Clark. It has raised the bulkheading around its floating maintenance dock about a foot and anticipates lengthening its ramps and elevating the road approach, he said.

The Suffolk County Legislature recently approved a rate increase that will help North Ferry fund its project, and the company could look to federal and state funds because the ferry connects part of State Route 114, Lagudis said. The rate increase will also offset the cost of the new vessel, the Menhaden, which will accommodate 25 vehicles — about double the number of the boat it will replace.

Fares are $2 per person and $12 for cars.

A South Ferry rate increase is also pending before the legislature.

Ferry service is critical on Shelter Island, which does not have a hospital and is home to nearly 2,500 year-round residents.

“People depend on the ferry not only to get to work or home from work, but also for emergency services,” Hunt said. “And that’s my biggest concern when we have an outage from weather.”

In addition to the ramp and bulkhead work, the North Ferry rate increase will:

  • Help offset fuel costs, which rose 32 percent from 2017 to 2018, despite North Ferry reducing consumption by 3,700 gallons.
  • Help fund the purchase of a new energy efficient vessel to replace the Islander, built in 1969, and the oldest boat in the fleet.
  • Turn a projected $261,511 net loss to a projected $209,762 net profit.

Source: Suffolk County Budget Review Office report

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