Prudence residents worried about future of ferry service
PRUDENCE ISLAND — A flurry of rumors surrounding the future of the Prudence Ferry has many islanders worried that service could be disrupted and has prompted one lawmaker to file legislation for the creation of a quasi-public authority to oversee operations.
On Sunday about 150 people attended a meeting of the Prudence Island Planning Commission (PIPC) to discuss their concerns about the ferry. Residents have heard many different stories swirling in the wind — that ferry owner Bruce Medley wants to get out of the business altogether, that he's re-locating operations to Fall River, or that he's trying to sell the Bristol ferry landing property to the Town of Bristol.
That last bit of news does have merit, as the Bristol Town Council is in negotiations with Mr. Medley for the purchase of the Thames Street landing in that town. Bristol Town Administrator Antonio A. Teixeira said while he couldn't comment on the specifics of the talks, he doesn't believe ferry service to and from Prudence will be disrupted.
"Because of the sensitivity of the whole thing and because it's been discussed in executive session with the Town Council, I can't comment on the negotiations. At this point it's my understanding that Bruce will continue to run it," Mr. Teixeira said Tuesday. "If we do acquire the property, we certainly would like to see the ferry continue to operate from there."
The town is interested in the land "just because it's waterfront property and it would help us expand the marina service there," said Mr. Teixeira, adding that the negotiations will "hopefully" wrap up "in the next couple of months."
Mr. Medley could not be reached for comment before deadline.
Ferry authority proposed
Rep. Raymond E. Gallison Jr. (Dist. 69-Bristol, Portsmouth), who attended the PIPC meeting Sunday, filed legislation Feb. 27 to create a five-member "Prudence Island Ferry Authority." The agency, modeled after the Steamship Authority in Massachusetts and other similar organizations, "would have exclusive authority to operate ferry services both to and from Prudence Island," states the proposed bill (2013-H 5600). The authority would also set the passenger rates to use the ferry.
Under the measure, the authority would be made up of three Portsmouth residents appointed by the Town Council (including at least one Prudence resident), and two Bristol residents appointed by that municipality's town council.
On Tuesday Rep. Gallison said the bill is intended as a precaution in the event that the current ferry service is suspended or disrupted for whatever reason. "I had heard last year there was a possibility that the present operator of the Prudence Island ferry may be looking to get out of the business," said Rep. Gallison, adding that his legislation is an attempt "to try to do something to help the islanders make sure they had ferry service to and from the mainland, hopefully still from Bristol."
At Monday night's Portsmouth Town Council meeting, Town Administrator John Klimm said he's heard that the current ferry operators may retire. "It's essential that there's a game plan for 'what next?'" he said.
Rep. Gallison said it would be in Bristol's best interests to keep the ferry docked off Thames Street. "My suspicion would be they would want the ferry to operate from there because it's an advantage to the businesses of Bristol," he said.
However, he said, it's still unknown what will happen even if Bristol ends up buying the land. "I want to be proactive rather than reactive," Rep. Gallison said. "If Bruce sells the property, what does he do? If he gets out of the business, how do they get service? He owns the boat and he could just stop service."
If that's the case, the proposed authority would allow local residents to have some control over the the ferry's future operations, "rather than hold the island hostage to several people who might do it or not," Rep. Gallison said.
Authority makeup questioned
At Sunday's meeting, which was also attended by Sen. Christopher S. Ottiano (Dist. 11-Bristol, Portsmouth), some islanders said the proposed authority should have more representation from Prudence Island, according to PIPC Chairman Harry Sterling. Rep. Gallison said it would be up to the Portsmouth and Bristol town councils to appoint members. "They could appoint more islanders or have them all be islanders," he said.
Mr. Sterling said the PIPA has appointed a committee to study Rep. Gallison's legislation and to consider comments and questions raised at the meeting. The group hopes to meet again within two weeks. "The consensus is that (the ferry) is essential and that it needs to continue out of Bristol," he said.
But other than that, islanders have more questions than answers, according to Mr. Sterling, who said Rep. Gallison's bill took islanders by surprise.
"It sounds like there's a lot of stuff going on that we don't know about," he said.
Ferry meeting Monday in Bristol
Bristol merchants and others are encouraged to attend a meeting to discuss the future of the Prudence Ferry on Monday, April 15, at the Rogers Free Library, 525 Hope St., Bristol.
Ed Bishop, who's lived on Prudence Island since 1964, organized the meeting, which will run from 2-4 p.m. in the library's Herreshoff Community Room.
Mr. Bishop has also heard rumors that the Prudence Ferry may possibly end runs to Bristol.
"The majority of people think the ferry should go to Bristol," said Mr. Bishop, adding that losing the ferry would greatly hurt local merchants. He plans to deliver flyers to inform local businesses about the potential loss of the ferry.
"I think it's an economic threat to the Bristol economy," he said, adding that he'd also hate to see the ferry landing come off the town's tax rolls.