New Bristol marina gets final approval

CRMC decision clears way for work to begin on expansion of marina at Church Street pier

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 10/15/20

A meeting of the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) on Tuesday resulted in the final approval of a town marina expansion plan, on the same day that Sen. Jack Reed visited town to review …

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New Bristol marina gets final approval

CRMC decision clears way for work to begin on expansion of marina at Church Street pier


A meeting of the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) on Tuesday resulted in the final approval of a town marina expansion plan, on the same day that Sen. Jack Reed visited town to review those marina plans, and to look at the completed renovations of the Prudence Island Ferry dock as well as the Bristol Fire Department’s new rescue and firefighting vessel.

Both of the latter projects were funded in large part by federal grants that were secured due to the efforts of Senator Reed. A Department of Transportation grant funded the lion’s share of the Prudence Island dock work, and a Port Security grant covered much of the cost of the new boat. Another grant, $600,000 from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, has recently been secured to help finance both transient slips on the expanded pier and a new fuel dock on the State Street Pier, again thanks to the efforts of Senator Reed.

“You’ve done a terrific job, and you’re the ones who made up the plans and carried them out,” said the Senator to assembled town leadership. “And it’s essential to the economy of the whole area.”

While the senator was on hand meeting with town officials, members of the Police, Fire, and Harbormaster’s offices, as well as employees of A&R Marine, who operate the Prudence Island Ferry and Pare Engineering, who supervised the work on the Prudence Island ferry dock, he also reviewed the latest set of plans for the new marina expansion. At 11 a.m. Tuesday morning, those plans were still up in the air, unapproved. By about 8 p.m., it was a done deal, clearing the way for construction to begin.

“The grant should cover most, if not all, of the cost of the fuel pump,” said Town Administrator Steven Contente. Officials are still finalizing details for the funding of the marina expansion, but they anticipate that associated revenues from the marina, including food and beverage, fuel, lodging and marine industry trades, will help offset costs.

CRMC weighs in

The hearing to expand the existing marina by 89 vessels, for a total of 126, as well as a variance for parking (needed because 84 spaces are required but only 74 available), was underway at about 7 p.m. Tuesday evening. The plan, to create a basin south of the existing pier with wave attenuating floats, has undergone significant modifications as it worked its way through the process. CRMC staff noted that there have been no objections from the public, but there have been numerous letters of support; they recommended granting both the parking variance and approval of the overall project.

The expanded marina will contain both resident and transient slips, as well as space for the Providence to Newport Ferry in the summer and perhaps the small cruise vessels which currently dock at Herreshoff, but have expressed an interest in being closer to downtown.

According to Harbormaster Gregg Marsili, who spoke on behalf of the town, since he began at his post in 2013, request for transient slip space has gone up dramatically. “In the past two years we have had to turn away about $50,000 worth of business, not including the people we turned away over the phone,” he said. The expansion would not just benefit recreational boaters, he noted. “We have a really robust fishing fleet here, and we will also have spots for marine businesses.”

He also suggested the parking need is not as great as regulations would suggest, given the transient slips. “Transient boaters don’t come with cars or need parking,” he said.

“This project is important to us all in Bristol,” said Mr. Contente. “We’ve spent a lot of time on environmental issues to make sure we don’t damage our harbor, which we’re really proud of. This will be a wonderful addition to our community … Especially for our commercial fishermen. Preserving our working waterfront for the fishing fleet has always been a key goal of the expansion project.”

Speaking as the co-founder and current spokesman for the 150-member BOOM! (Build Our Ocean Marina!), a group of local residents waitlisted for marina slips, Patrick “Pat” McCarthy, a long-serving member of the Advisory Committee to Bristol’s Harbor Commission, mentioned the overwhelming support this potential largest capital project in town has from not only BOOM! members, but throughout the community.

Final approval

Though there were brief sticking points on both parking and access for fishermen, at the end of the CRMC hearing the marina expansion plan was unanimously approved, with the qualifiers that transient slips remain transient slips and the Harbormaster and Town make every effort to permit unfettered access to the public part of the pier for recreational fishermen.

When reached for comment after the meeting, Mr. McCarthy shared what a lonely journey it was at the beginning, promoting the idea, but once the Harbor and Economic Development Commissions supported the idea, it gained positive momentum and ultimately won support from the Bristol Town Council, and a 2016 voter referendum approval sealed the deal. “I want to thank all involved, as it was a team effort by town government and residents alike,” he said. “The economic impact to our downtown businesses will be very, very positive.”

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