The owners of the Block Island Ferry are hoping to begin high-speed ferry service from Newport to Block Island next summer.
In a letter to the city administration, Interstate Navigation Co. asked that it be allowed to use the floating docks at Perrotti Park as a basis for their operation. Currently used as a hub for private harbor shuttle operators as well as a debarkation point for cruise ship passengers, the downtown facility is already the city's most prominent public harborfront facility, serving as a gateway to and from the water. If Interstate Navigation's plans play out, it's likely to become an even busier point of call.
Interstate Navigation currently operates a year-round conventional passenger and freight ferry service between Point Judith and Block Island. It also operates a seasonal passenger fast ferry service between Point Judith and Block Island. More recently, it has operated a limited seasonal conventional passenger ferry service between Newport and Block Island from Fort Adams State Park.
Earlier this summer, the company received a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) from the state's Division of Public Utilities and Carriers that allows Interstate to operate seasonal fast ferry service between Newport and Block Island.
Interstate recently purchased a fast ferry, which the company says is currently undergoing "substantial upgrades and should be Coast Guard approved and ready for service by June of 2013."
According to Interstate, the 89-foot fast ferry was built in approximately 2000, has a 250- passenger capacity, and twin caterpillar engines that generate approximately 4,400 horsepower.
Interstate's current plan is to discontinue the conventional slow ferry seasonal run between Fort Adams and Block Island, which operated just once per day, and took about two hours each way, and replace it with a more frequent schedule that would take passengers from downtown Newport to Old Harbor in less than an hour.
While a final schedule hasn't been set, Interstate expects the runs to begin toward the end of June 2013 and continue through Labor Day of each summer.
In addition to using the Perrotti Park docks, the company is also asking permission to use the downstairs counter at the Harbormaster's building to sell tickets.
"Our understanding is that this building is adjacent to the floating docks and that RIPTA formerly used this counter to sell tickets for their ferry," the company wrote. "In order for this new fast ferry service to be successful, the ferry will need to operate from a downtown Newport location. The cost of purchasing and upgrading this new ferry is substantial and the daily cost of operating this ferry will also be substantial. Therefore, it is crucial that the ferry be in a position to immediately generate ridership between Newport and Block Island. Interstate does not believe that this ferry service can be successful if it is operated from Fort Adams."
If approved, it would be the first time a fast ferry has operated from the facility since RIPTA discontinued its Providence-Newport ferry in 2010.
"We are hopeful that this new ferry operation will be beneficial, not just to Interstate, but will also be of substantial benefit to tourism in Newport," the company wrote. "It will provide another recreational opportunity for visitors to Newport because they will be able to leave Newport in the morning, visit Block Island, and return without having to devote the entire day to the trip.
Likewise, vacationers on Block Island who want to spend all or part of a day in Newport will be able to travel from Block Island to Newport, spend time in Newport shopping, visiting the mansions, etc., and then return to Block Island."
City Councilors were due to address the matter at their Wednesday, Sept. 28 meeting.