Service Restored: Ferries Running Again in Ocean Beach with Agreement Pending

BY SHOSHANNA McCOLLUM ~ Residents rejoiced in Ocean Beach on Saturday after Mayor James Mallott announced over the weekend at the March 19 Board of Trustees meeting that passenger and freight service to Ocean Beach would resume as a tentative agreement between the incorporated village and Fire Island Ferries, Inc. had been reached. Passenger service followed on March 20, the first day of spring. Freight service followed on Monday, March 21, 2022.

“We just have a verbal agreement at the moment,” said Mayor Mallott to FIN via text message. “I’m sure the attorneys will make a meal of it, so I’m not optimistic of anything to report for maybe a week or so.” What we do know is that the tentative deal only has a two-year duration, not the decade long agreement that has been traditionally minted at this bargaining table.There was also a public hearing at the March 19 meeting to consider landing rights in the village for the new Great South Bay water taxi company in town, H20 Water Limo Inc., based out of Sayville. How this will ultimately fit into the larger picture remains to be seen.Terms that remain unknown include:

RENT – Ocean Beach wanted more money for use of their village owned dock and facilities, while the ferry company was seeking a reduction. What ended up being the magic number?

FERRY TICKETS & PARKING: A portion of the OB rent agreement has always been in barter to pass onto the OB residents in the form of discounted parking and ferry tickets. It became a huge sticking point during negotiations. The Fire Island community of Saltaire, also an incorporated village who owns their dock receives a similar deal on ferry tickets, but they own their own parking lot in Bay Shore.

FREIGHT also became a sore subject during negotiations. A statement emailed to FIN earlier this month by the Long Island based PR firm Corbett Public Relations claim that Ocean Beach made an initial demand for a freight rent increase of over 500 percent.

BACK RENT: Based on a 10-year template, initial terms the Ocean Beach Ferry Negotiation Committee attempted to set was the collection of back-rent for the years 2020 and 2021.

RACHET DEAL – Another sticky term was an element the 2010-2020 contract known the “rachet deal.” If the ferry company exceeded a certain threshold of transporting passengers, an added surcharge was paid to the Village – The logic being that the extra human traffic becomes a strain on infrastructure of Ocean Beach.

The service interruption lasted nearly two weeks – an unprecedented impasse for this symbiotic relationship that has lasted over 70 years. Much has changed since the last contract was cemented in 2010. The pick-up and delivery of freight became evermore difficult when the Ocean Beach ferry terminal was demolished after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Unruly weekend crowds brought to the village doorstep in packed boats forced an agreement to permanently cancel the infamous 1 a.m. “late boat” in 2017. While the new ferry terminal was unveiled the following year; the pandemic emerged less than two summers later, altering freight delivery patterns ever since. Egos and optics have been bruised for both entities as barbed exchanges via email and social media raged on over a month for all spectators to consume. Common ground must now be found in order for the healing to begin.