When voters approved a $17 million bond referendum last November, it included $2 million to build a new public marina to help curtail the long waiting list of boaters seeking a public place to tie up their vessels. That project has been put on the back burner for the time being, angering some of those who had pushed for its approval.
The Bristol Town Council, faced with a bevy of capital projects to prioritize, recently approved a five-year Capital Improvements Program that spells out when planned projects should begin. The plan divides each year’s projects into four levels of priority — “Urgent,” and Priority 1-3 — which is not necessarily a directive to the town, but more of a guideline, according to Town Council Chairman Nathan Calouro.
The plan begins at the start of fiscal 2018, or July 1 of this year, with “urgent” Town Hall renovations, a fire engine replacement, a new trash truck and other projects. Lower priority projects in year one include improved waterfront access at Hope and Burton streets, “way finding signage” directing visitors to points of interest in town, and enhanced landscaping at Independence Park. Missing from the plan in its first year is the public marina approved in November. The marina project is tabbed for year two — beginning some time after July 1, 2018 — with a “Priority three” label, generating protest from some on the marina waiting list.
“This is very unacceptable to the majority of waitlisted individuals,” said Patrick McCarthy, who said he has canvassed members of the waiting list and is serving as a spokesman for the group. “This is in defiance of the will of the Bristol voters who voted overwhelmingly for the bond referendum and immediate marina construction.”
While it’s true voters overwhelmingly approved the bond referendum — with 68 percent in favor — there was no timeline attached to individual projects, Mr. Calouro indicated. Indeed, the marina was just one of several projects covered by the $17 million referendum, which also approved $7 million for drainage projects, $5 million for road and sidewalk repairs, $2 million for open space acquisition and $1 million for public building repairs.
“I’ve said this before and so have my colleagues — just because voters approved the referendum doesn’t mean we spend all the money right away,” Mr. Calouro said. “It’s meant to be there and be ready to do those projects when it makes sense.”
That’s the purpose of the Capital Improvements Program, he said — a long-term plan to help the council and town administrators “stay on target with our projects” and ensure priorities are adhered to.
“We as a council make decisions that are good for the whole town — and we believe the marina is good for the whole town,” Mtr. Calouro said. “There’s only so much we can do at a time. There’s only so much money.”
Money is part of the reason work on the marina should begin immediately, Mr. McCarthy said. It is an economic stimulator that will increase visitors to Bristol, helping bring more money to the town’s shops and restaurants, and enhance the quality of life in the boating-centric community of Bristol, he said. The town could also effectively promote the amenities of a brand new marina to the boating community to raise marina rates and possibly even get a multi-year commitment from boaters.
“This, in effect, wastes the next two summer boating seasons,” Mr. McCarthy said, noting construction wouldn’t begin until the summer of 2018 at the earliest. “This would immediately raise revenue for the tow. This is a town that raises taxes all the time. How about collecting some?”
Mr. Calouro shares Mr. McCarthy’s concerns regarding taxes, which is why he said the council needs to be smart in how it spends the money voters approved. Once the town goes to bond, interest rates kick in and the cost of borrowing begins.
“I understand the frustration. Everybody is chomping at the bit because it’s going to be a great project,” Mr. Calouro said. “Everyone is excited to move forward. We never actually committed to doing it this year.”
There is also a certain amount of planning that needs to go into the marina, which has been put on hold since its original proposal. The plan called for 122 boat slips in Bristol Harbor just south of the Church Street dock behind the Robin Rug facility on Thames Street. The town has encountered some obstacles, including disagreements with Robin Rug owner Russell Karian over the town’s right to attach the marina to the land behind the factory.
The marina plans will be among the subjects discussed during a public engagement meeting as part of an update to the town’s Harbor Management Plan. The Harbormaster’s Office and Community Development Department will host the engagement session on April 6 in Town Hall.