2009-07-30 / Front Page

So. Amboy getting closer to ferry service

City has obtained permits, properties needed for terminal

South Amboy is getting closer to establishing commuter ferry service to New York.

"We do have the waterfront development permit. We are moving forward," Mayor John O'Leary told the Suburban.

The city has waited nearly four years to obtain the permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection, he said, and is currently working with Robert Werkmeister of the state Department of Transportation. O'Leary said Werkmeister is serving as liaison between South Amboy and the state as the project progresses.

"I call him the gatekeeper. He approves the go-ahead on the project," O'Leary said.

The city is currently advancing plans for a ferry terminal and dock, along with parking for 550 cars. According to published reports, the ferry terminal building will be 150 feet by 75 feet; a floating dock will be 80 feet by 40 feet; a boardwalk will run 16 feet wide; and a floating breakwater will be 370 feet.

And now that the city owns all the property it needs — an issue that was also causing a delay — O'Leary said the plans can continue.

Though the waterfront development permit has been issued, it comes with certain conditions that must be met in order to continue with the project.

City redevelopment consultant Stan Marcinczyk said there were three conditions the city had to meet in order to continue. While two of them have already been satisfied, the third concerns the design of the ferry terminal area, which according to a state mandate must reflect the aesthetics of the time the Camden & Amboy Railroad was in operation. That railroad was chartered in 1830. Street lighting and other elements must resemble those of that time, Marcinczyk said. The city is working with Potomac-Hudson Environmental Inc., South Amboy, to meet that final condition, he said.

Also forthcoming is the construction of a road that would connect the ferry terminal area to Radford's Ferry Road.

O'Leary has said the ferry service will come at no cost to city taxpayers. That is in large part thanks to a number of grants that officials are optimistic the city will obtain.

South Amboy Business Administrator Camille Tooker said a $20 million grant would ideally pay for two ferryboats.

"The operator may come in with his own boat as well," she said.

Grants are what made the original — but temporary — ferry service the city offered shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, a possibility, O'Leary added. That service was never intended to be a permanent operation, he stressed.

O'Leary also said the ferry operator, who has not been determined yet, will be financially responsible for issues such as boat maintenance. Marcinczyk said discussions with potential operators are ongoing. An unnamed operator who the city had intended to work with in the past "will be in the mix with anybody who expresses an interest."

The city is working hard to ensure that the ferry service will be "as cost effective as possible for the commuters," O'Leary said, adding that ferry travel would be an environmentally friendly way for area residents to commute to New York City.

"The more cars we can take off the road helps the environment," he said.

Marcinczyk said the ride from South Amboy to lower Manhattan would take between 42 and 45 minutes. Currently, local commuters looking for mass transit to get to lower Manhattan have to take an NJ Transit train to a New York City subway or take a train to Newark and get on a PATH train that travels to the former World Trade Center site. Some also take ferry service from another location, such as the Belford section of Middletown.

Marcinczyk noted that the ferry operation is not something the city is looking to profit from directly.

"I don't really think it's going to be a revenue generator," he said. Instead, the city will see secondary revenue by "bringing people to South Amboy," where they can patronize local businesses.

"That's the real revenue generator," Marcinczyk said.

Both O'Leary and Marcinczyk said they are optimistic about a spring 2010 ferry service opening. The delay in obtaining the waterfront development permit made the summer 2009 projection, which the city had set as a goal last fall, impossible to accomplish. When state and county roads, as well as train lines, are involved in getting a project like a ferry off the ground, O'Leary said, "delays happen. That's just the nature of the beast."

The ferry project did face opposition at the City Council's July 15 meeting, where residents said they were concerned that if a ferry operation were not profitable and went belly up, the responsibility would fall on the city to financially rescue it. The mayor assured the residents that this would not happen, and said an alternative to the city absorbing that hypothetical burden would be found.

Marcinczyk emphasized that demand is strong for the service.

"We get calls on a daily basis," he said. "We know the need is there, and it's real."

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