Bristol's Harbor Commission recommends additional slips for Church Street Marina

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While the town of Bristol looks to improve the waterfront from Independence Park to Constitution Street, the harbor commission spent some time on Monday night looking to add more slips to the Church Street Marina.

“We need to get a rough idea just to get an idea of what it’s going to look like,” said commission chairman, Dom Franco.

Expanding marinas in Bristol, such as the Church Street dock, would accommodate boaters who have been on a waiting list for years. The majority on the list own boats that are 25 feet or less. Seven have 25 foot vessels, 12 own boats between 28 and 30 feet in length and there is one person on the list with a 40 foot vessel.

“Generally speaking, boat sizes are going up,” said Jim Dollins, harbor commission vice chairman. “We have adequate 20 foot slips, at least we think,” he said.

To accommodate the need, the commission suggested adding 40 25-foot slips, 50 30-foot slips and 40 25-foot slips. But John McDonald, a commercial fisherman who spends a great deal of time on the harbor, asked the commission to reconsider the number of larger slips. As he’s observed, a 20-foot boat as measured from the waterline is actually 30-feet in length, once the owners add a swimming platform to the stern and a pulpit to the bow.

“These boats are sticking way out beyond their slips,” he said, creating a potential hazard in the harbor and making docking more challenging.

“I wouldn’t buy a size 10 shoe if I had a size 11 foot just because it’s on sale,” Mr. McDonald said.

He suggested adding 40-foot slips into the plan, recognizing that vessels of that size are going to marinas in Newport and other areas. The commission did not recognize the demand for more 40-foot slips, since there is only one 40-foot vessel on the waiting list.

“If we don’t have any 40-foot boats in Bristol it’s probably because we don’t have the slips for them,” Mr. McDonald said.

After recognizing the logic in Mr. McDonald’s argument, the commission amended its proposal to include 16 40-foot slips in its plan.

The plan and its components are a “wish list,” right now, Mr. Franco said, using a concept drawing.

Harbormaster Gregg Marsili said that what happens in the water has an affect on the surrounding land that also needs to be considered. For every 100 boat slips, the state requires marinas to provide 75 parking spaces within a reasonable distance to accommodate boaters.

“There’s a lot more that goes along with it. We’re trying to do everything right,” he said of the planning.

Expanding and enhancing Bristol’s waterfront will be the topic of discussion on Thursday evening, Dec. 5, when the town hosts students from the Roger Williams University Community Partnership Committee. Under the guidance of RWU faculty and staff, along with direction from town officials, the students will present a comprehensive plan that includes a proposed Maritime Center using the Robin Rug building on Thames Street. That meeting will be held inside the Burnside building at 5:30 p.m.

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