UPDATE: Bristol Council approves resolution on Prudence Ferry landing fee

Bristol also seeks to renegotiate lease with A&R Marine

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A trip across the bay from Prudence Island may soon cost a bit more as the Bristol Town Council considers charging passengers a landing fee while seeking to renegotiate a lease agreement with ferry carrier A&R Marine.

Town Councilman Andy Tyska has proposed charging the 35-cent per-passenger landing fee to help offset the expense of maintaining the ferry dock on Thames Street and other associated costs, like establishing more parking along Bristol’s waterfront. The council approved a resolution Wednesday asking the state General Assembly for enabling legislation for the fee. Further council action would be needed before the fee is applied

Based on last year’s ridership of 57,000 passengers, the landing fee would generate about $20,000 a year for the town. Such fees are not uncommon, implemented by Newport, Narragansett and New Shoreham, Mr. Tyska said. Newport charges $3 per person who disembark from the cruise ships often moored off that city’s coast.

“We need to look at solutions to take a bite out of the parking demand,” Mr. Tyska said, mentioning the town could lease parking lots in the area and even look at the potential of building a garage. “The current and future parking needs need to be addressed.”

The future is a busier Bristol waterfront, if proposals to build a new 100-slip marina in front of the Robin Rug factory and expand public dock services come to fruition. Mr. Tyska and Town Manager Steven Contente have proposed expanding the ferry dock into a “Port of Bristol,” seeking to bring in more ferry services — such as the Providence-to-Newport ferry — and even small cruise ships that would carry vacationers to Bristol’s downtown. Some vacation cruises, including American Cruise Line, already visit Bristol, docking at Herreshoff Marine Museum.

“This is a key opportunity to expand Bristol visitorship,” Councilman Tyska said. “People can shop in our downtown shops, and eat at our restaurants. It could be a jolt in economic development for our businesses.”

The potential expansion starts with getting A&R Marine on board with sharing the dock. To that end, Councilman Tyska has proposed renegotiating the lease established with the ferry company when the town bought the dock in 2013. While the 10-year lease (5 years with a 5-year option) is just three years old, he believes renegotiating would be beneficial to both the town and the ferry company, ensuring the relationship continues well into the future.

“The ferry has been part of the fabric of our waterfront. I would like that to continue in a way that’s mutually beneficial,” Councilman Tyska said.

The new lease agreement would allow Bristol to use the north side of the dock to seek out and attract other commercial vessels to the town. The west end, currently exclusive to A&R, would be opened to other, non-competing ferry services. The renegotiation would also “revisit the rent structure to account for the value of the waterfront property,” according to the memorandum of understanding Councilman Tyska has proposed to A&R and the Town Council. Under the current terms, the ferry pays Bristol $1,000 a month to use the dock. The new rental fee would have to be negotiated, Councilman Tyska said.

Renegotiating the lease would establish greater stability for both the town and A&R Marine, Mr. Tyska said, something with which he said the ferry company agrees. A&R Marine President Stephen Antaya could not be reached for comment.

“A&R absolutely sees the benefit of renegotiating,” Councilman Tyska said. “It’s important from a business point of view for A&R to know they will be there into the future.I believe there is an intent to renegotiate. I would expect a fair and reasonable discussion.”

Any expansion of the dock would have to begin with critical repairs to the “extremely poor condition of the west face of the dock,” Mr. Antaya wrote on Jan. 4 to Portsmouth Town Administrator Richard Rainer Jr. He was requesting Portsmouth — of which Prudence Island is a part — and Bristol to kick in $75,000 each to make the immediate repairs. Costs of other repairs — including a new steel sheet piling bulkhead, removal and replacement of concrete ramps and replacement of asphalt along the south face of the dock — would run as high as $1.67 million, according to Pare Corporation, an engineering firm that inspected the dock in 2013 and recommended the repairs. Mr. Contente has cited the same number as the cost of establishing the Port of Bristol.

“If we’re going to continue to use it as a transient dock, we need to make sure it’s safe,” Mr. Contente said.
The need to repair the dock’s west end and make further improvements to expand is “a separate discussion” from the lease negotiation, Councilman Tyska said, but one that needs to happen to address the “very immediate concerns.”

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.