PRUDENCE ISLAND — Due to ongoing improvements needed on both ends of the ferry run, Prudence Island residents won’t have a means of bringing cars to and from the island from Sept. 15 to 30, according to a representative from new ferry provider A&R Marine Corp.
The existing ferry provider, Prudence Island Ferry, is ending service out of Bristol Sept. 14, and A&R’s five-year contract to lease the town-owned landing at the end of Church Street begins Sept. 15.
However, during the Portsmouth Town Council’s annual meeting on Prudence Island Saturday, A&R Marine Corp. President Stephen Antaya said service will be limited during the first two weeks. A&R still needs to make repairs and install a new ramp on the Church Street pier — Prudence Island Ferry owner Bruce Medley owns the current ramp and will be taking it with him — before its passenger vessel, M/V Herbert C. Bonner, can dock there, said Mr. Antaya.
“There’s a big cavity underneath the ramp now. We can’t put a ramp on top of that without repairing that,” he said.
From Sept. 15 to 30, the Bonner will provide service for foot passengers only from the pier in front of the harbormaster’s office, he said. On Prudence, a temporary gangplank just north of the existing pier will be used during that time, Mr. Antaya said. Free vehicle parking will be available at the lot across from Robin Rug on Thames Street during the transition period.
For essential vehicles such as trash trucks and utility and emergency vehicles, A&R will use its Army landing craft — designed to load and unload on a beach — that’s currently located at Potter’s Cove.
Since repairs to the Bristol pier can’t be made until A&R has control of it, the work must be done quickly to allow for vehicle transport by the company’s target date of Sept. 30. (On Prudence, A&R’s construction of a new pier adjacent to the existing ferry landing on property leased from the Town of Portsmouth should also be completed by Sept. 30, he said.)
“That’s a very tight schedule,” conceded Mr. Antaya, before adding that contractors are fully committed to getting the job done on time.
Nevertheless, several of the 100-plus islanders in attendance Saturday expressed concerns over the potential disruptions in service should there be delays in A&R’s work schedule.
One woman said some islanders are afraid of being stuck on the island for two weeks, especially the elderly who might need help. Pat Rossi, one of the partners in A&R, said she’s working closely with the island community to provide help to people who need to get on and off the island.
Another islander who said she had two “crucial” car reservations for Oct. 2 and 11 asked if A&R had a contingency plan in case the company isn’t ready to transport vehicles on the Bonner by then. Mr. Antaya urged the woman to contact him so something could be arranged if the need arises.
The Bonner, which will hold about 150 passengers and 22 or 23 cars, is currently at Senesco Marine at Quonset Point, said Mr. Antaya. A series of modifications have been made to the vessel to reduce its tonnage and make it more comfortable for passengers, he said.
“We put a new deck house on. It will be fitted with seating and lights and bathrooms,” said Mr. Antaya, adding that A&R still needs to find a backup vessel in the event the Bonner comes out of service for repairs.
According to a handout provided by A&R Marine, those who want to make vehicle reservations through A&R may do so by e-mail (ARMarine-Office@pi-ferry.com) starting Friday, Aug. 8; or by phone from Aug. 18 to Sept. 30. The company will be sending out an announcement when online reservations are available.
The new ferry’s rates have not yet been set by the R.I. Public Utilities Commision, Mr. Antaya said.
Portsmouth landing discussed
Also at Saturday’s meeting, Ms. Rossi of A&R Marine urged the council to renew efforts to find a potential spot on Portsmouth proper — at Weaver Cove, perhaps — for a ferry landing if the need arises in the future.
The idea was floated in the past, town officials said, until Prudence residents made it clear they prefer the landing to remain in Bristol. A&R has a five-year lease with the Town of Bristol for the Church Street landing in that town, with an option to renew.
However, Ms. Rossi told the council, it’s hard to predict what will happen with the pier 10 years or more down the road. Things change, she said.
“Twenty years ago, I didn’t know I’d be in the ferry business,” said Ms. Rossi. “It would behoove the council to secure a portion of waterfront that might have to be used for a ferry if something was to happen with Bristol. You own several islands. You don’t own much waterfront.”
Town Administrator John Klimm said while “Bristol has been nothing but responsive” to islanders’ needs, he agreed that Ms. Rossi’s idea has merit.
Town’s lease discussed
The Town of Portsmouth’s own lease with A&R Marine was also discussed Saturday. Under the terms of a contract, the lease with A&R Marine runs for 10 years at a cost of $7,500 annually, plus an annual increase to account for the Consumer Price Index.
No action was taken on an agenda requesting that the Town Council waive the lease agreement in order to reduce overall costs for A&R. Council President James Seveney said he did not feel comfortable with the town providing a valuable piece of property to a private business for free.
“We are charging rent. It’s nominal. I wouldn’t see much of that annual lease getting into the ticket price,” said Mr. Seveney, adding that the town will monitor the ferry’s fares, however.
Finally, the council voted unanimously to authorize Town Solicitor Kevin Gavin to file a complaint, if warranted, over Prudence Island Ferry’s intention to “modify ifs ferry schedule and operation” from Sept. 2-14.
Town officials said they don’t know exactly what changes Prudence Island Ferry intends to make to its schedule. One islander said it could simply mean the reduction of a run or two, which he pointed out the ferry company normally does in September anyway.
Mr. Gavin said he wanted the option to file the complaint with the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers (DPUC) on the town’s behalf to ensure the “orderly transition” of ferry service operations on the island.
Resident Judi Staven objected to the request, calling it overly broad. She said it gave the town’s attorneys “carte blanche to do anything they want.”
Council Vice President John Blaess said the town was simply leaving its options open so that the current ferry service “doesn’t pull a fast one on you.”