2012-04-19 / Front Page

Subcommittee formed to mull ferry proposal

Boat would be handicap accessible, but harbor panel isn’t sure dock is
BY MARGO SULLIVAN

A newly formed ferry subcommittee will study the pros and cons of accommodating the Aquidneck Ferry – or another handicap-accessible ferry – in Jamestown, the harbor commission has decided.

The Aquidneck Ferry, which is handicap accessible, is licensed to operate in Newport Harbor, according to the ferry captain, Addison Closson. He would like to expand service to Jamestown, provided town officials support the concept.

That’s still up in the air, however.

Michael de Angeli, the Harbor Commission chairman, said the Town Council rebuffed earlier preliminary questions about the ferry and instead suggested the harbor commissioners should “do their homework first” before asking the town councilors to weigh in.

To comply with the Town Council’s request, at the April 11 harbor meeting, de Angeli appointed Patrick Bolger, Jake Farrell, Larry Eichler and David Cain to the new subcommittee and asked them to research the issues. Bolger will be the chairman. The significance of adding Cain as a fourth commissioner was to ensure all the meetings would have to be posted in advance and all the minutes would be public, de Angeli said.

“I don’t want to be accused of a lack of transparency again,” de Angeli commented.

Closson’s proposal has run into skepticism about the feasibility of bringing a big wooden boat into the touch-and-go floating dock at East Ferry. Originally, Closson had expected to use the old Jamestown Ferry dock and had not realized that dock is not functional. As an alternative, de Angeli suggested the outer side of the dock might be an option, but Sam Paterson, the harbormaster, and a resident, William Tuthill, raised some objections about allowing a commercial boat to use the public access dock.

“The whole thing gives me the heebie-jeebies,” Tuthill, a selfdescribed recreational boater, said. He maintained the Jamestown currents are too strong for a boat the size of the Aquidneck Ferry.

“No way you’re going to stick it on anything over there,” he said. “No way.”

The ferry captain disagreed.

“Obviously, we don’t crash the boat,” he said. “It’s a very gentle landing. The touch-and-go is similar to Fort Adams. The boat was engineered to land there safely.”

Tuthill also objected to allowing the ferry to use the touch-n-go because this ferry, he said, is really a tour boat.

“I want to go on record as be- ing dead set against it,” he wrote in an email sent before the meeting. “I resent the idea of long waits for people like me who just want to use the dock for a quick run to the deli. The dock should be reserved for recreational use only. Commercial operators can pay their dockage.”

Closson objected and said the Aquidneck Ferry isn’t a private vessel like the Newport tour boats that Tuthill referenced. Instead, he compared the ferry to a RIPTA bus.

“The Aquidneck Ferry is a common carrier licensed by the state of Rhode Island to meet a public need,” he said. “The other boats are private vessels, not regulated by the [state Public Utilities Commission].” He estimated 20 percent of the U.S. population either qualifi es as handicapped or in need of an accommodation to access the waterfront.

The dock is not only for recreational use, de Angeli added, and he suggested the Harbor Commission might find some way to accommodate both the boating public and the ferry.

But Paterson suggested the logistics could pose a problem.

“We can’t stop someone tying up for three hours,” he said. “We already have an issue policing touch-and-go docks.”

Turning to Closson, he said, “I can’t see how they can guarantee you a time.” He went on to say, “You’re asking for something special. We do not give the average boater the same rights.”

Paterson said the issue was public access. “It would take the public access away from other people. I don’t think that’s fair.”

Closson said he was asking for 10 minutes twice a day. According to Closson, in reality, people who don’t own boats don’t have any public access to the waterfront now. “Let’s just think about this for a minute,” he said.

Then Bolger identified another problem. He said the main advantage for the town is the accommodation for the handicapped. But, he added, the dock “is not equipped” with ramps meeting Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

Farrell also said there was going to be a problem with safety. “My concern is the captain’s ramp,” he said.

Farrell told Closson that he doubted handicapped people could disembark. “It’s a violent floating dock,” he said. “I have been seasick at that marina on that dock. I don’t think your handicap ramp is going to work. It only works apparently at one place in Newport, from people I’ve talked to.”

“I’m sure,” Closson said.

“The steel pier might be easier,” Bolger said. “It seems to me if we bring a boat in to help the handicapped, then we have an obligation to make a safe landing spot. Second, we ought to meet the captain and see how easy it is to maneuver into that touch-and-go.”

Farrell said the boat wasn’t maneuverable.

“Have you driven it?” Closson asked.

Bolger said he wasn’t against the ferry, though. “I’m not opposed,” he said. “I think it needs a lot of study.”

Eichler said the harbor commissioners should consider calling for proposals from other ferry operators.

“We should get the highest and best use,” he said. But the preliminary question should be whether the harbor commissioners want to open up the dock for commercial uses.

“Let’s take it like Larry [Eichler] says,” de Angeli agreed. The chairman then gave the subcommittee tasks, including researching the past ferry controversies and analyzing how many objections to ferry service are still valid.

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