EYE ON FI: Bellport’s Ho-Hum Residency Restriction

Ho-Hum Beach Ferry
The “Whalehouse Point” ferry to Ho-Hum Beach.
Photo, Inc. Village of Bellport.

Everyday throughout summer, the Whalehouse Point ferry shuttles riders between Bellport Marina and Ho-Hum Beach with one difference from most ferries to Fire Island: It only takes village residents and their guests.

That fact has become a bone of contention between Brookhaven Town Supervisor Dan Panico and Bellport Village Mayor Maureen Veitch, both of whom are newly elected. A secluded park named for the onomatopoeia of a bored sigh like those expressed during a lazy day at the shore, Ho-Hum Beach now finds itself in its latest fight over access — this time with accusations of enabling segregation by not allowing neighboring minorities to ride.

“I’m no different, you’re no different than the children and families of North Bellport, and they deserve a means by which to enjoy this island and go to the beach,” Panico told hundreds gathered for his swearing-in ceremony in January, when he proposed opening Ho-Hum Beach to non-village residents. “We must be better as a community as a whole because we are one town.”

The only other ferry like it serving Fire Island travels to and from the exclusive gated private residential community of Point O’ Woods. Although Ho-Hum Beach is village-owned park, not a community, it similarly excludes outsiders from taking the ferry to the beach unless they are with a guest, with exceptions made for renters in Bellport.

Panico has said if the village doesn’t cooperate, the town could contract its own ferry to Ho-Hum Beach. Veitch, who was in attendance when Panico announced he was reviving the Ho-Hum Beach ferry debate, does not appear to be backing down.

“The ridership rules will remain as they have been in the past, which is basically residents and their guests only,” she told village residents at a board meeting in February. She added that village residents overwhelmingly agreed to keep the restrictions in place. “Public discussion is a very important piece of the puzzle, and we will continue to take this into consideration as we move forward.”

The reason often cited is that village taxpayers fund the upkeep of Ho-Hum Beach. Veitch told residents that the ferry and beach costs more than $1,500 per day to operate, the cost of lifeguards at Ho-Hum Beach has increased 14% (from $64,900 to $74,000) since summer 2022 and the solar panels at the park — the only source of electricity — will soon need to be replaced.

The village purchased the property for $25,000 in 1963, the year before the Fire Island National Seashore (FINS) was established by Congress. Its ferry is named for Whalehouse Point, a former 17th century whaling station that was the first settlement on the island and once stood near the park but was one of three former communities that were condemned and returned to their natural state when Fire Island National Seashore (FINS) was founded.

Panico’s reason for urging the village to open Ho-Hum Beach is because he described the difference between Bellport and North Bellport makes it “one of the most de facto segregated communities on Long Island.”

Bellport is more than 90% white while North Bellport is a majority-minority community with the number of Black and Latinx residents outnumbering the white population, according to the latest census data.

What’s more, the new town supervisor reportedly cited language in a town resolution authorizing a Bellport village annexation passed in 2018 that mandates allowing outsiders to Ho-Hum.

“The approval of the annexation was made subject to one specific condition: the continued use and benefit of the property known as Ho Hum Beach for the residents of the Town of Brookhaven,” Panico told Suffolk County News. “Yet, the Village of Bellport has denied access to the ferry to any person who is not a resident or invitee of a resident of the village. This has the clear effect of denying all other town residents’ reasonable access to the beach in direct contravention of the town’s 2018 resolution.”

For what it’s worth, it is possible for non-Bellport residents to visit Ho-Hum Beach without hopping the ferry. But it takes persistence, as Ho-Hum Beach is of the most remote, hardest to reach locations on Fire Island, located in the middle of the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness — a seven-mile stretch of undeveloped beach that is the only federally designated wilderness in New York State. Ho-Hum is a four-mile walk east of Watch Hill or two mile walk west of Smith Point County Park in Shirley.

Of course, that’s a long walk for a park whose only amenities are a lifeguarded beach, picnic area, concession stand and marina that’s also only accessible to village residents.

FINS, which oversees the entire barrier island, declined to comment on the dispute. Neither Panico nor Veitch responded to requests for comment.