It’s a common question lately for anyone within earshot of the Port Jefferson ferry: what’s that sound?
The Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company, which docks its vessels on the shores of Port Jefferson Village, is in the midst of a repair project that is addressing critical infrastructure, but it’s also causing residents to wonder aloud when they might have some peace and quiet.
Chesterfield Associates, a privately-owned contracting firm hired by the ferry company, is in the process of replacing sheet steel panels that make up the bulkhead, or retaining wall that protects the infrastructure below the pier, according to Jeff Grube, the general manager of the firm. Grube said the loud noise residents are periodically hearing is caused by a vibratory hammer, the machinery being used to drive the steel sheets into the underwater soil. If something obstructs the sheet from being driven into the soil — like in one case a submerged barge, according to Grube — that’s when the decibel level is loudest near the waterfront.
“Projects should include some type of shielding to prevent residences being rattled like this.”
— Facebook poster
“The old sheet piling was corroding to the point where they were starting to lose a lot of fill behind the bulkhead,” Grube said. He added that structural issues could arise if the repair work were not completed, causing a hazardous situation for anyone using the pier. Grube said Chesterfield Associates constructed the dock in the ‘80s, and thanks to regular upkeep by the ferry company, the bulkhead hasn’t needed to be addressed until now, but it was time for the repairs in order to strengthen its critical infrastructure. The general manager said the project is progressing as initially expected, and should be completed by the end of June. The ferry company first submitted an application to the village’s building department Sept. 1, 2017, which estimated the total cost for the project to be nearly $10 million.
The area behind the bulkhead is below the vehicle holding area for the ferry, according to Linda DeSimone, the senior structural engineer for Greenman-Pederson, Inc., the design firm overseeing the plan.
“I don’t understand how the village residents are defenseless to this latest issue,” a poster on a closed Facebook group comprised of Port Jeff village residents said Feb. 20, referring to the loud noise. “Projects should include some type of shielding to prevent residences being rattled like this. I wouldn’t expect to pay for my room downtown, and the noise has to be hurting all village businesses. Get that thing shut down and keep it shut down ‘til they provide a plan that protects the residents and businesses. No one wants to live in or spend money in the middle of a noisy shipyard construction project.”
Others joined the poster in questioning when a projected end date for the construction is, and if the noise violated village code. The village does have a section in its code dedicated to noise pollution, which states specific decibel levels not to be exceeded Sunday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. A lower decibel threshold exits for all other hours.
One of the exceptions in the noise pollution section of village code is for construction activities, which are permitted to take place only from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. For this project, the village passed a resolution Sept. 18 allowing the repair work at the ferry to be conducted from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday.
The added hours were approved to expedite the completion of the project.
“The hours of relief requested are on the bookends of the workday, so those hours would be mostly for setup and breakdown,” Village Mayor Margot Garant said in September.
Garant said in an email the village has not received many complaints about the noise.
“It’s unfortunate, but this work needs to happen — the ferry is an important, integral part of our harbor,” she said. The mayor added the village has no plans to revisit the section of its code pertaining to noise pollution, but instead will “stay the course and hope they complete [the work] ahead of schedule.”
The ferry company also addressed the repair work in a November 2017 Facebook post.
“The terminal improvements should improve traffic flows and help us to stage vehicles more efficiently,” the post said. “Thank you for your continued patience and please know how much we appreciate you using our service.”
This post was updated Feb. 26 to include an updated photo and video.