Ocean Beach Village Approves Service Contract with Fire Island Ferries

With soured negotiations and service suspensions from two winters ago still a vivid memory for many of us, the Incorporated Village of Ocean Beach Board of Trustees unanimously passed a 10-year service contract with Fire Island Ferries, Inc. of Bay Shore, New York at a special meeting held on Wednesday, January 31, 2024.

Highlights of the new contract include:

·      A 10-year lease that covers passenger service, freight delivery, as well as rents for landing rights and dock use of the village-owned terminal in Ocean Beach, New York.

Grim faces and animated chatter in the Zoom meeting comment bar personified the January 31 Board Meeting to consider the ferry contract in Ocean Beach.

·      Some regained ground in the price of bulk purchase ferry ticket books for Ocean Beach homeowners, with the cost reduction now being 15%.

·      The reduced-price annual parking fee clause for Ocean Beach homeowners remaining in place, with a cap of 350 spaces reserved.

·      A rollback in terminal rent fees for the ferry company, but also 3% annual increases which ultimately will lead to a $120,623 overall increase in rent for the village by year 10 of the contract.

·      Additional language for terms of insurance and bonding are also covered in the agreement, as are terms for collaboration of both entities to continue work to improve safe and orderly passenger flow.

With the atypical weekday scheduling of the meeting, most interested parties tuned-in virtually, including two Trustees as well as Village Counsel, creating a robust attendance of over 50 individuals.

“You know in negotiations, nobody walks out happy, but we’ve come to an agreement,” said Ocean Beach Village Mayor James Mallott. “I have put the village first in my negotiations with the ferry. We need to maintain service here.”

The mayor went on to thank his fellow board members for their efforts as well as Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffrey for his assistance in brokering the deal.

“The ferry company is holding a royal flush and we’ve got a handful of jokers,” Mallott continued in trying to illustrate the dynamics of the situation.

Upon opening up the matter for board member discussion, questions and requests for clarification and correction began. The most notable being from Dawn Hargraves, presently the only second-term trustee sitting on the Village Board at this time. Also being a practicing attorney, Hargraves requested to change a single word cited in a passage she referenced as “paragraph 1.1” which read “ferry boats owned or operated” to “ferry boats owned and operated,” concerned that this word could open the way to joint partnerships or subcontractors on behalf of Fire Island Ferries.

“I can’t do this at the ninth hour,” said Mallott. “We all either have a contract or we don’t. If we don’t have this contract today, there’s no ferry service and there’s no parking. You know again, I have a gun to my head. There’s nothing I can do. I’m trying to make the best decision for the village here.”

From there the discussion moved to other matters, but Trustee Ian Levine circled back to Hargrave’s request, asking the Village Attorney if her concerns were founded.

“Either the change is substantively meaningless to the ferry company, and they would be happy to accommodate a request to make that change, or it is substantively meaningful and the ferry company is going to say no to that change,” answered Peter Bee, Esq., but went on to reiterate the Mayor’s sentiments, “This is the best deal we could get… We have already learned that the ferry company is prepared to pull the trigger on that.”

Trustee Hargraves acknowledged that this discussion was about “a very small word, but we’re also talking about a 10-year contract and potential changes in the administrators of Fire Island Ferries going forward…”

Village Administrator Joseph DiFrancisco excused himself to make a telephone call to Fire Island Ferries at Mayor Mallott’s request to enquire about the word change. ”I’d like to get a unanimous vote on this,” said the Mayor.

“I’m taking a pragmatic approach here because I recognize where we have negotiating power and where we don’t,” stated Trustee Marco Arment while waiting on the answer of that phone call. “While we didn’t squeeze every once of negotiating power out of this, I think the reality of doing that is pretty harmful.”

While discussion among Mayor Mallott and Village Trustees continued and tensions escalated, Mr. DiFrancisco returned and advised that Fire Island Ferries agreed to the word change. With that information, a full unanimous soon followed and the motion passed.

At the time of publication, Fire Island Ferries, Inc. did not return our calls for comment.

A full transcript of the January 31,2024 meeting prepared by Ocean Beach Village Clerk Jonneigh Adrion, can be found on the Ocean Beach Village website, as well as a video link of the recorded meeting in its entirety.