Equal Time: Cross Sound Ferry isn’t worthy of an award

GIANNA VOLPE FILE PHOTO | Cross Sound Ferry docked in Orient Point in January.

Cross Sound Ferry has not been a good neighbor and does not deserve any awards for vastly increasing its business at the cost of our environment and quality of life. It is Troy Gustavson who deserves an award for pointing out the elephant in the room.

The facts are plain. From 1976 to 2006 the number of vehicles carried annually by CSF increased by 700 percent. In 1976 the annual number of vehicles was 60,000; in 1990 it was 220,000 and in 2010 about 500,000. Yes, there has always been ferry service at Orient Point, but from 1949 to 2008 the number of ferry crossings increased a staggering 900 percent and this tremendous expansion occurred without any environmental review.

Marine diesel fuel is dirty, and ferryboats are a major source of pollution in New York. CSF’s terminal unloads hundreds of thousands of cars a year onto a small two-lane road past a national natural landmark (Orient State Park) and through a national historic district. Most of the land east of the causeway has been designated significant and fragile by our state and national governments.

Yet instead of doing their part to safeguard this unique environment from their significant impact, for example by pursuing the latest engine technology or using the cleanest-burning (and more costly) fuel, CSF has for years operated to maximize profits and has not shown any respect for its neighbors’ rural quality of life.

[Click here for an opinion article by Paul Romanelli from February].

CSF has recently began to make retrofits to its aging (some boats built in the 1940s) and polluting fleet, but it is too little and too late. Their actions are not voluntary, but in response to increased federal regulation, as well as federal money available for such retrofits.

For 25 years, from 1973 to 2008, no permits were required by the EPA for discharges into our waters from CSF’s ferryboats. Ferry vessels were exempt under the Clean Water Act until very recently, despite generating many different kinds of wastewater. Less than five years ago, CSF paid a fine of about $1 million to the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection for pollution in the Thames River.

I have my doubts about whether CSF is a good neighbor, and whether it has serious intentions to be one. Although they provide money to local organizations, have they offered to make donations to make a real difference?

For example, we need major stormwater management to protect our fragile waters from the polluting runoff generated by the excessive ferry traffic. That includes cadmium from car tires and oily residue from exhaust that ends up on our roads and then in our waters. Our roads and our fragile North Fork environment are not up to the outsized traffic from the ferry.

Our town is now under the gun to conform to new MS4 regulations regarding stormwater management and will find it difficult to do so. Where is CSF? I would like to know what their environmental agenda and budget is and what steps they are taking to mitigate their serious impacts on our environment from traffic and exhaust, wastewater and runoff.

Are they willing to publish environmental data on their website? As the second largest privately run ferry operation in the country, are they willing to become the cleanest and safest? Willing to meet with the community to try and run their business in a way that respects us and our environment?

Let’s give CSF an award when they are transparent about their environmental impacts, generous stewards of our North Fork environment and respectful of our quality of life. The real conflict of interest lies between CSF’s interest in profit and our community’s interest in something invaluable — a clean and healthy environment.

Ms. Ockenden-Christ resides in Orient.