Prudence residents press town for a fix to ferry parking woes

Officials say since landing is in Bristol, their hands are tied

By Jim McGaw
Posted 10/18/23

PORTSMOUTH — Prudence Island residents had a lot to talk about during the Town Council’s annual excursion there Saturday morning — the status of the Mill Creek project, …

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Prudence residents press town for a fix to ferry parking woes

Officials say since landing is in Bristol, their hands are tied

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — Prudence Island residents had a lot to talk about during the Town Council’s annual excursion there Saturday morning — the status of the Mill Creek project, the island’s transfer station, the volunteer fire department, road maintenance, and a whole lot more.

But as is usually the case, no topic prompted more debate than their lifeline to the island — the Prudence Island Ferry. Specifically, islanders wanted to know what’s being done to improve the parking situation for those getting to the island, as they’re finding it increasingly difficult to procure available spots near the ferry landing.

The only problem is, the ferry dock is located on Thames Street in Bristol, not in Portsmouth. There lies the rub.

“The Town of Portsmouth has no authority or any control over parking in Bristol. I know you don’t want to hear that, but that’s the reality,” said Council President Kevin Aguiar, addressing about 70 residents who gathered inside the Prudence Island Improvement Hall on Narragansett Avenue.

Islanders learned earlier this year that two parking lots owned by Robin Rug on Thames Street in Bristol — one managed by Robin Rug, the other by the Town of Bristol — were closing due to a new, high-end residential development being proposed. The lots, which had about 100 parking spaces for ferry passengers, are across the street from the Bristol landing, and only a short walk to the ferry.

Many islanders say both towns should be responsible for finding them parking, since they pay taxes to the Town of Portsmouth and spend a good deal of money at the shops and restaurants in Bristol. 

“There’s very limited parking in Bristol,” acknowledged Aguiar, adding that even Bristol residents are having trouble finding spots. Islanders are competing with Bristol folks, especially in the summer when “Bristol is bursting at the seams,” he said.

Rep. Susan Donovan, who attended the meeting along with another state legislator who represents islanders, Sen. Linda Ujifusa, agreed with that assessment as she lives in Bristol herself. The local merchants are complaining about the lack of parking as well, she said. 

“(The Town of Bristol) can’t solve it for their own residents,” never mind for people who live in Portsmouth, said Donovan. She’s spoken to Rhode Island’s federal delegation as well as Bristol officials, but has been frustrated by the lack of available options.

Throwing another monkey wrench into the situation is the fact that the harbor area when the Bristol ferry landing is located is on a federal historic seaport list. “You are so limited as to what you can do down there,” said Donovan.

Nancy Howland, of Cliff Road, said the Bristol harbormaster told her she’d “have to wait for 10 families to die in order to get a parking space.” 

Prudence residents spend a lot of money at Bristol businesses, she pointed out. “But they don’t care. They don’t feel they can do anything for us,” Howland said. “I see no options for us, at all.”

What about shuttles?

When the suggestion of providing a shuttle service to the ferry landing came up, council member Keith Hamilton mentioned the possibility of using the parking lot at Ace Hardware on Gooding Avenue. A R.I. Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) bus could possibly shuttle islanders between there and a stop on Hope Street, where they’d have to walk down to the landing, he said. 

That would be RIPTA’s call, however, and the shuttle would only work for a large group of islanders, as the bus wouldn’t be on standby for just one or two people, he said.

Pat Rossi, of Neck Farm Road, said it would cost $600 a day for a shuttle service, so the town would need to procure federal grants and work with RIPTA to make it happen. “You’re not gonna do it on your own,” she said.

Roger Williams University and a parking lot in Portsmouth were also mentioned as possible shuttle pickup/drop-off sites. There’s also a private parking lot at the now-closed Goglia’s Market in Bristol, but that will probably be sold soon and won’t be available, said John Spadaro of the Prudence Island Planning Commission (PIPC), which has been working with the council to find solutions.

One resident brought up the Belvedere hotel on Hope Street in Bristol, which has parking underneath. Spadaro said the PIPC has already discussed the matter with management at the Belvedere, and has not been able to come up with an agreement.

Aguiar said Bristol officials have suggested renting parking spaces from Bristol residents, including in private driveways. “There’s probably a whole submarket out there for renting parking spaces,” he said.

Jack Hagopian, of Madison Avenue, wasn’t satisfied with the council’s response on the ferry parking issue. 

“I don’t want to be disrespectful … but we’re worse off now than we were five years ago,” said Hagopian, who wanted concrete answers on what the Town Council plans to do about the problem. “I’m really tired of kicking the can down the road. Five years and we’re no better off than we were.”

Again, Aguiar said all the town can do is to keep working with the PIPC to explore new ideas. “The Town of Portsmouth has no control over the parking in Bristol. There’s nothing we can do,” he said, adding the town also doesn’t have the resources “to buy a piece of property in Bristol.”

What about Weaver Cove?

Just before the discussion on ferry parking, Pat Rossi asked the council about the possibility of putting in transient ferry docking at Weaver Cove, along the west shore of the “mainland.”

Rossi noted Weaver Cove has plenty of public parking, and there is a large waterfront development with retail being planned for the area. 

“If you go on the north side with a float and a ramp that went up and down with the tides, it could be a transient. We know people are having trouble with parking in Bristol; there is no parking,” she said. “I don’t think you should close the door on having some avenue between Portsmouth residents on Prudence and Portsmouth residents on Aquidneck Island.”

Town Administrator Richard Rainer, Jr. said that would be a great idea except for one problem: The town doesn’t own the boat ramp. “There is no town dock at Weaver Cove; it’s a public boat ramp,” he said. “All we can do is to bring that up with the appropriate agencies.”

Rainer and Public Works Director Brian Woodhead said the town, which is responsible for maintaining the parking area only, is working with DEM and CRMC on doing some work related to the replacement of the boat ramp to bring it up to industry standards. 

Pressed further by Rossi, Aguiar said the town could work with the PIPC and Harbor Commission to explore a transient dock at Weaver Cove, but DEM would have to be at the table as well.

Future meetings

The Town Council will meet at 7 p.m. on the following Mondays: Oct. 23 (including discussion on transfer station operations, to be held in the Portsmouth High School auditorium), and Nov. 13 and Nov. 27 (both at Town Hall).

Portsmouth Town Council, Prudence Island, Prudence Island Ferry

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