Portsmouth wants assurances from Bristol over ferry dock

Won’t chip in on repairs without more dialogue

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — The Town Council won’t agree to chip in on repairs to the ferry dock in Bristol until it receives assurances from the Town of Bristol that longterm ferry service from that town will be maintained.

For the second time, the council met with the president of the current ferry service, A&R Marine Corp., who wants the town to contribute one third the cost of repairing the Bristol landing so that larger vehicles can board the ferry. The job will cost an estimated $210,000, and Mr. Antaya has asked the towns of Portsmouth and Bristol to chip in $70,000 each. A&R will pick up the remaining costs, he said.

“The less I have to borrow, the less that goes on the backs of the ratepayers,” Mr. Antaya said.

Council President Keith Hamilton, however, said in light of the return the Town of Portsmouth gets for the dock — he pointed out that Bristol collects parking fees from Portsmouth residents who use the ferry — his “comfort range” was $50,000. 

He also expressed skepticism over the $210,000 cost estimate. “I’m still not comfortable with the cost estimates for a wide variety of reasons,” he said, noting they were made a “while back” and winter weather may have caused more damage to the dock.

Council member Paul Kesson, however, said $70,000 may be a reasonable price when you factor in the longterm costs of using barges to get vehicles over to Prudence. “Currently, we’re spending $6,000 extra to take trucks off Prudence every year,” Mr. Kesson said.

As far as a commitment to keep Bristol as a landing spot for the ferry, Mr. Antaya said Bristol officials have assured him they support the dock longterm because it boosts tourism and local business.

Town Administrator Richard Rainer Jr. said that sounded like encouraging news compared to the tenor of discussions Portsmouth officials have recently had with Bristol.

The council voted unanimously to direct Mr. Rainer to re-open dialogue with Bristol over the ferry landing.

Second ferry?

The council also briefly discussed the possibility of a competing ferry, in light of Eric Leite’s idea of launching a boat from the west side of Portsmouth. 

Mr. Leite is the longtime captain for Prudence Island Ferry, which ran the ferry service before A&R took over in September 2014. Mr. Leite has a boat, Mt. Mansfield, as well as control of the previous ferry dock at Homestead on Prudence, just south of A&R’s island landing. What he doesn’t have yet is a spot on the other side of the bay to land his boat, and he’s looking to negotiate with Portsmouth officials for help.

“It would really behoove the town of Portsmouth to look into an alternative ferry plan for Prudence Island,” local resident Judi Staven told the council. “You need something going here.”

Mr. Rainer acknowledged he had his “first communication” with Mr. Leite earlier on Monday. The town has already looked at alternate landing sites on Portsmouth’s west side, but there are not many options, he said.

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Jim McGaw

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.