Boatowner Doug Somers was notified of the eviction in a letter from Town Manager Mike Embury in May 2012, telling him he had until June 30, 2013, in anticipation of the boat’s arrival. His lease has been renewed in four-month increments since then, as the fire boat’s arrival continued to get pushed back, with the most recent renewal due to expire Feb. 28.
“I've always looked at it as a privilege to lease at these places,” said Somers, who docked the "Brandaris" sailing ship at the town dock at the municipal parking lot in downtown Wickford for many years before getting the Sea Princess. He told members of the Economic Development Advisory Committee at their meeting Wednesday that without that spot, he’ll have to sell the boat.
Because it’s a public cruise boat, Somers said, operating the Sea Princess requires parking and easy access for customers, as well as a convenient location.
The Sea Princess, which is 38 feet, has been at the town wharf since 2003. According to a memo detailing the history of the Sea Princess at the town wharf assembled by Police Chief Tom Mulligan, at the time there was an opening at the dock for a 50-foot boat.
By town ordinance, in Wickford space at town-owned docks not needed for municipal purposes is offered first to fishing boats; second, to other commercial boats; and third, to pleasure boats. The Sea Princess falls under the “other commercial” category and as there was no fishing vessel seeking the spot, the Sea Princess got it.
Somers paid the town about $1,600 this past year, according to Chief Mulligan’s memo. Slip costs at the town-owned Allen Harbor, by way of comparison, are $83 a foot for residents, $93 a foot for nonresidents, but users are charged by the slip size, according to Sherrie Neal from the town rec department. For example, the cost for a resident for a 17-foot boat in an 18-foot slip would be $1,494 for the season (May 1-Oct. 1).
Recently, the fate of the Sea Princess was made known to members of the Wickford Economic Development Advisory Board (WEDAB). Chairwoman Ellen Waxman lamented the possible loss of the public cruise ship.
“Doug's business is very much in alignment with what we want to promote,” she said at a meeting Wednesday of the Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAB). “This is a business retention issue, an economic development issue and it's a historic preservation issue.”
At a WEDAB meeting in December, she noted that many decades ago the steamboat the "General" provided transport between North Kingstown and Newport. “This is our history. I would like to maintain and preserve our character.”
According to Mulligan’s memo, the new fire boat is 37 feet. The police boat, which is also docked there, is 24 feet. The fire boat will need a 15 foot lead to tie up the boat and the police boat a 5 foot lead. In total, the two boats will need 80 to 85 feet to securely tie up and get into place, Mulligan wrote.
He said suggestions to move the police boat to the town dock next to Rite Aid don’t take into account the added response time (distance) needed by being that far up in the harbor.Somers said that space wouldn’t work for the Sea Princess either without dredging because the Sea Princess needs a 4'8" draft.
Waxman suggested adding 10 feet to the municipal dock, which could allow all three boats (police, fire, Sea Princess) to dock there. How quickly that could be accomplished, or even if it is possible, remain questions.