BRISTOL — Prudence Island Ferry’s lease for the Town of Bristol’s dock expires in less than seven weeks, yet it’s still unclear what ferry service will be using the landing going forward.
Both Prudence Island Ferry owner Bruce Medley and a competing service, A&R Marine Corp., have been talking with Bristol officials in hopes of securing a contract to use the dock. The current lease with Mr. Medley, who sold the Thames Street dock and parking lot to the Town of Bristol last year for $800,000, expires June 14.
The Bristol Town Council is expected to take the issue up at its regular meeting Wednesday, April 30, although it’s unclear whether any action will be taken at that time.
In February A&R Marine Corp., doing business as Prudence & Bay Islands Transport, was granted a conditional certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN) from the R.I. Division of Public Utilities and Carriers to operate a ferry between Bristol, Prudence Island and Hog Island. That puts it in direct competition with the existing Prudence Island Ferry, which has been the sole provider of ferry service since the mid-’80s. (The existing service does not extend to Hog Island.)
In submitting its required initial rate application with the R.I. Public Utilities Commission (PUC), A&R expressed confidence that it would have a lease from Bristol for the docking facility as of June 15.
“Upon information and belief, A&R believes that the existing Prudence Ferry, Inc. will probably not be operating after June 14, 2014 …” Michael R. McElroy, attorney for A&R Marine Corp., stated in the April 16 letter to PUC.
On Monday, Mr. Medley said he doesn’t know where that information came from, adding he had a “handshake agreement” for a five-year lease extension with the Town of Bristol.
“We had a meeting with the Bristol town administrator (Tony Teixeira) two weeks ago. We had a lengthy meeting and we discussed the terms, how much it was going to cost us per foot, and so forth. We had an agreement and he was going to take it to the council meeting,” said Mr. Medley.
But later on Monday, after speaking with Mr. Teixeira, Mr. Medley said he was confused as to where he actually stood with the town.
“He said the town solicitor has advised them not to make an agreement with me because PUC has not decided who exactly will have the service to Bristol. My reaction to that is, ‘What?’ said Mr. Medley. “I did tell Tony, if I knew I was going to be blindsided by this when I sold you the dock, I never would have.”
Mr. Teixeira said he was directed to have conversations with both Prudence Island Ferry and A&R Marine. The talks with Mr. Medley revolved around whether Prudence Island Ferry would propose a one-year or five-year lease, “but there was no commitment,” he said Monday.
Mr. Teixeira expects to present the nature of his conversations with the two companies to the Bristol Town Council Wednesday night. The council may act, or may request further study of each company’s proposal, before the town issues a contract for the dock.
Mr. Medley said whatever Bristol decides, the company that doesn’t get the Thames Street dock lease will still have other options to explore.
Prudence Island landing
For its landing on Prudence, A&R Marine is trying to work out a deal with the Town of Portsmouth to lease town-owned property adjacent to Mr. Medley’s dock at Homestead. The Portsmouth Town Council Monday night met in executive session to discuss the ferry issue under the section of state law that allows private talks “related to possible disposition of public held property wherein advanced public information would be detrimental to the interest of the public,” according to the agenda.
Mr. Medley said A&R Marine initially approached him to buy his landing at Homestead. “That’s not in the cards,” he said.
For various reasons, Mr. Medley expressed skepticism that A&R Marine would be ready for operations by June 15.
“That’s Type-1 waters, You can’t dredge or build a commercial dock,” he said, noting that his company is grandfathered in because the site has been used for a ferry landing “since the 1920s.” He also said A&R Marine will have to go through the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
As for his competitor’s boat — A&R Marine announced last month that it had a pending sale agreement for the 112-foot M/V Herbert C. Bonner, originally built by the North Carolina ferry systems — Mr. Medley said he doubts it will be ready by June 15.
“The boat is not here. It needs to be totally re-gauged and restructured if it can be done at all,” said Mr. Medley, noting that the Bonner weighs 200 gross tons. “It needs to be completely cut apart and refigured to cut it down to 100 tons or less. That boat, you have to back it into the slip. Will that actually fit into our slip in Bristol?”
In his opinion, it will be too costly and there’s not enough time to get it done by June 15.
On Monday, Mr. McElroy declined to comment on behalf of A&R Marine. “I wouldn’t be comfortable talking on the record about that,” he said.
With additional reporting by Eric Dickervitz.