Village attorney: Greenport can’t charge ferry travelers fees

Joe Prokop

Greenport Village attorney Joe Prokop says a plan to establish a new revenue stream for road repairs by charging drivers traveling to the North Ferry isn’t legal.

During Thursday’s Village Board work session, Mr. Prokop said the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a Connecticut court ruling in 2009 that the Bridgeport Port Authority was unconstitutionally collecting taxes from the ferry company and passengers on the Bridgeport and Port Jefferson Steamboat Company.

In that ruling, the court found “a charge designed only to make the user of state-provided facilities pay a reasonable fee to help defray the costs of their construction and maintenance may constitutionally be imposed, so long as the toll is based on some fair approximation of use or privilege for use and is neither discriminatory against interstate commerce nor excessive in comparison with the governmental benefit conferred.”

However, it ruled that the fee charged by the Bridgeport Port Authority was excessive.

Trustee Doug Roberts said he’s looking for a second opinion about charging a dollar per car and believes the village should request “pro-bono third party legal opinions” to determine the feasibility of the proposal.

“It is unfair to put Joe in a difficult position on an issue that could potentially put a rift between him and another of his clients,” Mr. Roberts said, adding Mr. Prokop is also the village attorney for the Village of Dering Harbor on Shelter Island.

Mr. Prokop said he doesn’t believe there’s a conflict of interest.

[Related: Greenport Village eyes taking over ferry parking lots]

Trustee Julia Robins said she opposes the fee because “a lot of local people will be asked to carry this burden.”

The mayor, who works on Shelter Island, addressed ferry traffic concerns and said it takes up to 45 minutes to get home due to the traffic.

The village has added a traffic control officer to direct traffic near the ferry, he said.

Mr. Hubbard also has suggested turning Wiggins Street into a two-way road, as it once had been, and putting a stop sign at the intersection of Wiggins Street and Third Street in order alleviate ferry traffic.

He also proposed to hold a public hearing in April to discuss road changes.

“I’m sure the residents will voice their opinions,” Mr. Hubbard said, “but this is just the short term fix this summer. The bigger fix will have to be discussed more.”

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Photo: Joe Prokop at a village meeting in 2015. (Credit: Paul Squire, file)