2012-03-22 / News

Council rebuffs idea for ferry service

Also, panel votes to build tree farm near North Pond with capacity of 60 plants
BY PHIL ZAHODIAKIN

The Town Council this week rebuffed in no uncertain terms a proposal for additional ferry service between Jamestown and Newport. The rejection doesn’t mean the idea is sunk for good. But the council quickly decided that the proposal wasn’t remotely ready for prime time and kicked it back to the Harbor Management Commission, which had voted to endorse the idea during its March 14 meeting.

The council met on March 19 and was able to reach decisions on a number of fully fledged proposals, such as a reconstruction of the sidewalks to the island’s schools and a permit for a tree farm on town-owned property. The councilors also resolved a bureaucratic conflict that was blocking benefit checks from reaching retired firefi ghters and their widows.

The otherwise productive meeting wrapped up with the ferry proposal from Capt. Addison Closson, who said in an email to the council that he owns the Aquidneck Ferry service. Closson’s email doesn’t say why he identifies himself as a “captain,” but his website says his service provides “interesting tours with great food and beverages for all ages.”

Conanicut Marine Services already provides a ferry service to Newport, with the full-time daily schedule in effect from June 11 through Sept. 9. In his email, Closson said he would like to land his 65-foot boat at East Ferry twice a day for 10 minutes. Although the council didn’t discuss any details of the proposal, there is an obvious question raised by the number of proposed landings: How would Jamestown passengers return after the second trip?

They could, of course, return on the CMS launch, if not by cab. But one of the arguments Closson raises in support of his idea is that his boat “would solve an unmet need for persons with physical disabilities” by providing a boarding ramp and a restroom which meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Closson also acknowledged that the commission raised “several logistical concerns which we believe can be worked through.” In a formal note to the council, the commission said it was “respectfully requesting the Town Council to consider this as an option for the town.” But Council President Mike Schnack let it be known that it is not the council’s job to investigate and “work through” ideas endorsed by a town panel, saying “the commission didn’t do its job” and blasting the commission for forwarding the sketchy request in the first place.

“I’m appalled by this,” said Schnack. “It’s ridiculous. I recommend we send it back and ask to provide us with a recommendation instead of just a nice idea.”

Councilor Bob Bowen said he was “flabbergasted that they pushed this forward. There isn’t any evaluation of how the service would operate, and we’re coming up on a very busy time of year.”

The Press asked Harbor Chairman Mike de Angeli why his panel decided to vote on a motion endorsing the proposal in time to put the idea before the council’s Monday meeting. “The idea is attractive because the boat has ADAsuitable accommodations, and we felt that, if we’re going to do this, we should move ahead with it. Parking is always a problem, but it seemed like this was an idea worth pursuing bringing to the council because I presume it would require some sort of permit.”

Unlike the inadequate ferry service idea, the long-standing proposal for a tree farm was suffi- ciently detailed for a vote. It passed unanimously.

Under the proposal, which was developed by the Tree Preservation and Protection Committee, the town will allow the panel to set up on a small plot of land a tree-growing operation to ensure that Jamestown has a steady supply of street trees whose species are indigenous to the island. The organic tree farm will be set up on a 100-by-75-foot parcel of land in the town-owned land to the east, and slightly south, of North Pond.

In his presentation to the council, Chairman Jim Rugh of the tree committee said the farm will reduce the cost of purchasing tree stock while ensuring that the young trees have been “hardened” to the island’s weather. The farm will have a capacity of 60 trees and the seedlings will be ready to harvest after five years.

Rugh said all of the costs to run the farm will be covered by grants. The tree warden will supervise the operation, but it’s unclear who will handle the labor involved with the farming itself.

Regarding a long-simmering problem involving benefits payments to retired firefighters and their widows, there is finally some clarity. Under Town Ordinance amendments adopted by the council last summer, the benefits may not be paid to beneficiaries who live off-island. However, it has been the town’s policy to pay those beneficiaries.

The benefits may be distributed as tax abatements, but since the amendments were adopted, a pair of off-island beneficiaries have been denied their $700 checks – an issue brought forward several times by Councilor Bill Murphy.

Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero told the council that the town “has a tradition of paying [off-island] beneficiaries. The ordinance clearly says they must be residents, but that hasn’t been the practice. So, I would recommend that those individuals be paid [by Finance Director Tina Collins]. Given the wording of the ordinance, Tina’s actions have been reasonable.” Ruggiero suggested that the ordinance be amended to reflect town policy.

A motion to pay the individuals passed unanimously. But before any attempt at amending the ordinance proceeds, Schnack told Rug- giero to, along with Town Administrator Bruce Keiser, meet with the Fire Department to see if there are any other “hiccups” resulting from the department’s merger with Jamestown EMS.

In other business, the council learned that the final report of the town’s energy-efficiency audit, which was performed for nine municipalities under a contract awarded to Johnson Controls by the Washington County Regional Planning Commission, will be submitted next month.

If the town decides to implement all of the proposed energy improvements, Johnson Controls would be the contractor. However, the council could decide it would be more cost-effective to self-select the projects and proceed on its own.

Either way, the federal government is funding the audit with an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act allocation. The projected cost of all the improvements is $300,000, including $80,000 for a rec center boiler, along with boilers for the library and police station at a cost of $25,000 apiece.

Bowen asked Keiser if the audit will support the installation of solar hot-water heaters for the library or the rec center. Keiser replied that Johnson Controls “will not bring forward a recommendation for solar hot-water heaters,” explaining to the Press that Johnson Controls staff have indicated in meetings that the heaters “would not be cost-effective.”

In a final piece of business, the council adopted an amended agreement for funding for the Safe Routes to School program that will pay for improvements to the sidewalks leading to the Lawn Avenue and Melrose Avenue schools. The council also adopted an amended contract with Crossman Engineering for its work on the project.

In an update regarding the longstanding proposal to convey for management purposes the town’s 100 tax-sale lots to the Conanicut Island Land Trust, Councilor Ellen Winsor said the Conservation Commission would review the revised agreement this week, which means that the council could review, and vote on, the conveyance at its first meeting in April.

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