2012-05-17 / Front Page

Harbor board sinks ferry proposal

Special panel meets just once, recommendation now sent to Town Council
BY MARGO SULLIVAN

The Aquidneck Ferry has hit a major snag in its bid to add a Jamestown stop to its seasonal schedule.

The Harbor Commission at its May 9 meeting voted to follow the advice of its newly formed ferry committee. The panel has sent the Town Council a negative recommendation on the handicapaccessible ferry.

Ferry Capt. Addison Closson, who did not attend the May 9 meeting, was not reached for a comment. He originally had asked the harbor commissioners at the March 14 meeting if they would support his proposal to add a Jamestown stop to the daily seasonal schedule.

The Aquidneck Ferry, a renovated 1954 shrimp boat with a mahogany bar and restaurant seating for more than 70, has operated in Newport Harbor under a certifi- cate of public need due to the lack of water transportation services for people with physical disabilities, Closson said. He obtained the certificate from the state Public Utilities Commission in February 2011 to transport passengers from Perrotti Park to the Fort Adams visitors dock, but he has not yet obtained landing rights at Fort Adams.

In its written decision, the PUC noted its jurisdiction over ferry service was limited. “For example,” the decision read, “the applicant must first obtain a certifi- cate of inspection from the Coast Guard before it can begin to carry passengers on the Aquidneck Ferry, and it will have to secure landing rights from the appropriate agency or landowner for each of the proposed termini on its route.”

Closson obtained Coast Guard approval and landing permission from Perrotti Park, but the other sites have not yet allowed the Aquidneck Ferry to land.

Closson came to the Harbor Commission in the hope of securing landing permission near East Ferry. If Jamestown officials backed the concept, Closson said, he would go back to the PUC and apply to expand ferry service. The advantage to Jamestown, he said, could come in federal and state grants to repair or improve the dock per requirements by the Americans with Disabilities Act for public landing facilities.

Originally, the commissioners sent the proposal forward to the Town Council, but the councilors sent it back due to lack of information. Harbor Commission Chairman Michael de Angeli said the commissioners had been asked to “do the homework” and then send a recommendation to the Town Council.

In response to the council’s criticism, the harbor commissioners voted to form a ferry committee to explore the issues. de Angeli appointed Patrick Bolger, David Cain, Larry Eichler and Jake Farrell to serve on the ad hoc committee. He pointedly chose four members so the open meeting laws would have to be followed, including posting the meeting in advance and keeping minutes, he said at the time.

The committee held a single meeting May 1 and found no need for additional ferry service on the island, according to Bolger, who served as the chairman to the short-lived board.

The ferry committee’s lone meeting had Police Chief Ed Mello and Harbormaster Sam Paterson in attendance for their opinions on the matter. Mello serves as the Harbor Commission’s executive director.

“We reviewed the history,” said Bolger. “We looked at all issues surrounding the current request for service and found it was consensus there wasn’t a need. We recommend you deny the request.”

The committee also concluded that the island lacked a dock suitable for the Aquidneck Ferry, Bolger said. The only possibility – the steel pier – is under lease to Conanicut Marine, which operates the Jamestown Newport Ferry. The lease for the steel pier would have to be renegotiated if the town gave Aquidneck Ferry permission to use it. de Angeli summed up the ferry committee findings: “You didn’t see the need, and it would have cost a good bit of money to put it in anyway.” The money he was referring to was the cost associated with building a new dock or renovating an existing dock for the ferryboat. de Angeli then turned to Commissioners Ed McGuirl and Chris Brown, who had not been appointed to the committee and did not attend the May 1 meeting.

“Any questions?” he asked. “Any reason to reopen debate?”

When no one spoke, de Angeli asked for a motion to accept the committee’s recommendation and “pass it to the Town Council as our response.”

He dubbed the panel the “onemeeting ferry committee,” which provoked howls from the commissioners. McGuirl quipped he would have volunteered to serve had he known the committee would dispatch its mission in one session.

Bolger said in an email Tuesday he believes the committee has finished its official business and has been disbanded.

In response to a question following the meeting, Bolger said the committee’s review of the ferry history did not include any testimony from the Public Utilities Commission’s 2010 hearings, which resulted in the state’s decision to license Aquidneck Ferry. He also said he was unaware of adverse testimony in 2010 from Bill Munger, owner of Conanicut Marine and the Jamestown Newport Ferry.

“I didn’t know about it,” Bolger said, “and it was not discussed in the committee.”

At the time, Munger objected to the license for Aquidneck Ferry because he saw no need for additional ferry service.

Munger said in a telephone interview he decided not to comment about Aquidneck Ferry’s bid to come to Jamestown.

“I stayed out of this one,” Munger said. “I figured the light bulb would come on eventually.” He said that he figured town offi- cials would reject Aquidneck Ferry’s proposal when they realized Closson would be relying on the town to provide a pier.

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