2018-03-01 / News

Marina gets OK to build ferry landing


Conanicut Marine received town support to build a 130-foot dock parallel to this wood-pile pier at East Ferry to accommodate a 150-passenger ferryboat. 
PHOTO BY TIM RIEL Conanicut Marine received town support to build a 130-foot dock parallel to this wood-pile pier at East Ferry to accommodate a 150-passenger ferryboat. PHOTO BY TIM RIEL The town is supporting plans by Conanicut Marine Services to make ferryboat travel from East Ferry to Newport accessible to wheelchairs by installing a landing for a new 150-passenger vessel.

The proposed 130-foot-long dock, made of timber 4 feet wide, would be built parallel along the southern side of the wood-pile pier. According to attorney Christian Infantolino, who is representing Conanicut Marine, that dock would be reachable from the East Ferry lot by a gangway to a concrete float on pilings. Wheelchairs would be able to travel down the ramp, onto the concrete float and directly into the ferry. Marina owner Bill Munger said complying with the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act is vital at the waterfront.

“I can load a wheelchair in Newport, but I can’t get if off here,” he said.

“People in wheelchairs can’t grab ice cream unless there are nice guys onboard to carry them off the boat,” Infantolino added.

That concrete float, Infantolino said, is being specifically engineered to link directly with the ferry’s boarding entrance. He estimated work to take 18 months. Although Conanicut Marine still needs state approval, Infantolino said the landing ideally would be ready for the 2019 tourist season.

“We’re crossing our fingers,” he said.

Because the marina has an existing lease with the town, Infantolino had to secure permission from the town council on a sub-agreement. Councilwoman Mary Meagher “happily” made the motion to endorse the project at the council’s Feb. 20 meeting, which the councilors unanimously approved. It previously was vetted by the planning and harbor commissions, garnering support from both boards.

According to Police Chief Ed Mello, executive director of the harbor office, there were two conditions imposed on Conanicut Marine. First, the proposed concrete float should be increased in size to 35 feet. That’s because the project will require the removal of an existing public touch-and-go dock. Although Infantolino said that float is rarely used, the harbor commissioners weren’t comfortable taking away public boating access. To rectify that concern, Conanicut Marine agreed to expand the concrete float by 20 percent with public access. Second, Munger agreed to position the gateway more north of that float to allow for maximum public space along the south side.

Conanicut Marine currently operates two ferries with a total capacity of 82 passengers. These vessels make regular stops at Rose Island, Fort Adams, Goat Island, Ann Street Pier and Perrotti Park. During major events, however, like the Volvo Ocean Race and the Newport Folk Festival, the marina charters additional ferries across the East Passage. Because the state Public Utilities Commission has authority regarding ferry service, Munger is obligated to expand his fleet when there is high demand. According to Infantolino, the new ferryboat will negate the need for these charters, making the service more efficient.

Taxpayers will not be on the hook for this project. Subsidized by $200,000 in grants from the Federal Highway Administration, Conanicut Marine will finance the remainder, which is estimated to be $400,000.

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