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Gangway for southern Brooklyn ferries

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A high-tech manufacturing facility, a cultural center and Coney Island casinos were all part of Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz’s vision at this year’s State of the Borough address. But the thing that really got my attention was hearing my longtime colleague’s call to extend East River Ferry Service to connect Manhattan to Coney Island, Sheepshead Bay, Canarsie and, most importantly, Bay Ridge!

Direct commuter ferry service in Bay Ridge ended when the deteriorating 69th Street Pier was closed back in the early 1990s. The pier was rebuilt and completed by 1999. Then, in 2003, former Brooklyn Heights Councilman David Yassky and I placed $500,000 into the city budget specifically for the construction of a ferry slip to be attached to the renovated pier. The effort was bolstered with a positive response from the Department of Transportation and the full support of Community Board 10, which unanimously voted to ask the city to release the funds and build the ferry slip — what we call a “spud barge” — and subsidize the new ferry service, boasting a 15-minute travel time from the 69th Street Pier to Wall Street’s Pier 11.

But just as quickly as momentum grew for the new ferry slip, it suddenly sputtered and came to a halt as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) decided to pull its subsidy that helped operate another ferry service between Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan in the wake of the 9-11 attacks, which had left the N and R subway lines disrupted and roads into Manhattan heavily congested.

It has always been my goal to enhance the community’s relationship with the water and the ways in which we can use it. Right now, our waterfront is a tragically under-utilized asset, hidden in plain sight. That was also why, in 2009, I allocated an additional $500,000 to build an “Eco-Dock” on the 69th Street Pier which would enable “day trippers” to secure their private boats (between 3–8 pm, depending on their size, plus kayaks or canoes) and explore the neighborhood. The Eco Dock would also greatly benefit Bay Ridge’s economy: a more accessible Bay Ridge would mean a stronger and more vibrant Bay Ridge.

The day after his speech, I congratulated Borough President Markowitz for seeing the need to reconnect Manhattan to Southern Brooklyn via the water, and welcomed him to the fight. I have been banging the drum to extend East River Ferry Service to connect Manhattan to Bay Ridge for almost a decade now, and I’m excited to have him aboard. We need to find a way to revive these plans. The time has come – it is long overdue.

Councilman Vincent Gentile (D) represents Bay Ridge.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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