2016-12-08 / Front Page

City Panel to Tackle Fireboat Questions

By Tom Walsh

Although the type of boat Newport will acquire to replace its current 16-year-old water vessel remains under discussion, the city will decide to obtain a new fire and rescue boat of some type probably by early 2017, according to City Manager Joseph J. Nicholson Jr.

“This absolutely will go forward,” Nicholson told Newport This Week.

While earlier signals had suggested that a new boat might be identified as early as this month, Nicholson said an informal “ad hoc” committee comprised of nine members from “City Hall and the maritime organizations” began meeting on the issue just last week.

“We would like to wrap this up in a couple of months,” Nicholson, a member of the new committee, said. He added, though, that Christmas holiday activities often conspire to make such efforts take longer than anticipated.

Since last August, when Newport officials gathered at the waterfront to see a 37-foot Moose Boat Catamaran currently being used by the North Kingstown Fire Department, most of the discussion has centered on this particular vessel that costs about $964,500.

The city is pursuing a federal Emergency Management Agency port security grant that would cover 75 percent of that cost, leaving the city to pay 25 percent, or $241,125. The current Newport city capital budget includes $267,500 to fund a new fireboat.

Further, purchasing and maintaining such a vessel began to seem easier when, last September, Peter D. Kiernan, a Newport philanthropist and retired investment banker, said he would donate $200,000 to help pay for the boat.

Given the cost figures associated with a Moose Boat similar to the one now used in North Kingstown, this would leave Newport with more than $200,000 to place in a dedicated maintenance fund to support the new boat once it is in operation.

Nicholson maintained that the type of fireboat the city will eventually decide upon remains “up in the air.” He also said, though, that the Moose Boat is a “quality vessel.” Will that be what the city eventually acquires, he was asked?

“It may be, it may not be,” the city manager replied. “I want to see what this group comes up with. It’s a good group.”

“The goal is to get the best pricing,” said Newport Fire Chief Peter D. Connerton, also a member of the new committee.

City Councilor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano said that Newport officials have also been informed by their North Kingstown counterparts that for the first three to five years, Moose Boats require “little or no maintenance.”

Meanwhile, those in the Newport maritime industry who earlier seemed less than enthusiastic about the city committing to a new vessel with the price tag of a Moose Boat now appear to support the idea.

“They are absolutely behind this now,” Napolitano, the former mayor, declared.

Matt Gineo of Oldport Marine Services, a significant figure on Newport Harbor, applauded the idea of setting aside maintenance funds from the beginning. “If that’s what they do, that’s a pretty good plan,” he said.

Gineo added that it will be important that fire department personnel are well -trained in operating a new fireboat. “This is for 365 days a year,” he said. “People who do this need to be well trained. They’ll need to have three or four people on duty to run that boat.”

Timothy J. Mills, Newport harbormaster and a member of the ad hoc group, said, “It will be interesting to see how the whole thing washes out.”

Connerton added, “I’ve got a good handle on the project. But there is still some legwork that has to be done.”

In addition to Connerton, Mills and Nicholson, the other six committee members are Don Gunning, a Newport Fire Department captain; David Kane, a member of the Newport Waterfront Commission; Hank Kniskern, a retired professor of business management at Roger Williams University and former chair of the Waterfront Commission; Ryan Miller, current Waterfront Commission chair; Gregg Morash, a Newport firefighter; and Ann Souder, vice president of the Newport Maritime Alliance.

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