Over the years, unusual weather, changing wind patterns and development—more homes and docks in North Haven—have stirred up the sand, leading it to drift down the channel and shoal near the docks, explained Cliff Clark, South Ferry co-owner and president. He added that he has been working to get a dredging effort under way for a decade.
“In places we used to be able to navigate freely just 10 years ago, we cannot go at low tide,” he said. “We have to avoid those areas as we approach the slips. It’s narrowed down our opening to where we almost have to come directly in on many low-tide landings.”
Boats have not hit ground yet, he said, but dredging is necessary to prevent that, as well as the possibility of stranding someone who needs to get off Shelter Island to go to the hospital or for another emergency.
“This is an essential part of the state highway system,” he said, noting that although the South Ferry is a private business, it links two parts of the state highway and is also part of a county emergency evacuation route.
Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman said the county is prepared to dredge, but that the project would not start until at least fall 2014, because underwater Verizon and Long Island Power Authority cables present a challenge.
“It’s progressing, but they’re struggling with the utilities,” he said. “They don’t know exactly where the high-voltage cables and fiber-optic cables are.”
State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, meanwhile, announced recently that he has secured $750,000 in State Department of Transportation multi-modal funds for the ferry to help resolve its docking and navigational issues presented by the shallower waters. “We were able to make a case for securing money for dredging so that State Route 114, via the ferry, remains operative,” he said, noting that alternatives like extending the docks were also considered.
Hurricanes Irene and Sandy and the blizzard this past February contributed to the sand build-up, he said.
About 1.2 million people and 720,000 vehicles use the South Ferry each year, according to Mr. Clark.
His business has been in the family since 1714, and the area has never been dredged before, he said, emphasizing that dredging will not be a regular recurrence.
“It’s not something that will happen every couple of years,” he said. “It may not happen in my lifetime again.”