City council approves New York-New London high-speed ferry service

New London - Starting in July, you can leave Wall Street and, after less than three hours zooming across Long Island Sound, be on Bank Street.

The City Council Monday voted 5-2 to approve a contract that would allow a high-speed ferry service to operate between the New London Waterfront Park and New York City on July weekends on a trial basis.

While a set schedule has not been announced, Seastreak, which operates a commuter ferry service between Sandy Hook, N.J., and Manhattan, plans one daily round trip on Saturday and Sunday, leaving New York each day at 9 a.m. and departing New London around 7 p.m.

It is undecided whether the high-speed, 41-meter catamarans will dock at City Pier, which is scheduled to undergo repairs in the near future, or Custom House Pier. Sea-streak President and co-owner James A. Barker said the company is amenable to either but would prefer to use City Pier.

Barker estimates a one-way trip will take two hours and 45 minutes, though Seastreak is planning a trial run to establish a firm travel time.

The company is planning a same-day round-trip fare of $69, though round-trips of over two days would cost more, Barker said. Seastreak has an agreement with Mohegan Sun for a guaranteed number of passengers, he added.

"It's a backstop that allows to keep fares low," Barker said.

According to the terms of the contract, the city would be allowed to place literature on the ferry to promote New London businesses and tourist destinations.

Seastreak will pay the city a daily $246 landing fee and $1 for every passenger alighting in New London.

In a memo to the council, City Manager Martin Berliner said New London would receive a minimum of $496, a figure subject to negotiations, should Seastreak decide to extend the service beyond July.

"This is a great opportunity," Mayor Rob Pero said.

Councilor Michael Buscetto III, along with fellow Democratic Councilor Wade Hyslop, opposed the plan, preferring the council put the proposal into committee to discuss it further and possibly vote on it later this month.

"It's a huge mistake," Buscetto said. "It's a shame; we don't have all the facts."

Most of the councilors agreed with Buscetto's assessment that a proposal of this magnitude should be discussed in committee, but that time was of the essence.

Michael Passero, the other Democrat on the council, called Seastreak's plan "an opportunity we do need to seize."

Barker told the council the company plans to promote the New London-New York service immediately and a delayed vote would have presented difficulties in "marketing and getting this launched."

Nevertheless, Buscetto peppered Barker with questions, wondering if Seastreak plans on "penetrating the market" and offering ferry service to Block Island, or if it would require city services.

Barker said the company has no current plans beyond the New York service, but did say it would like a supply of fresh water.

The Seastreak fleet includes four 41-meter vessels, each with a capacity of 405, and two smaller vessels.

The company also runs a Friday ferry service between New York and Martha's Vineyard.

From 2000 to 2002, the Mashantucket Pequots ran a high-speed ferry service from Glen Cove, N.Y., to New London.

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