Drivers, Ferry Patrons Relieved, Though Some Still Wary [Hartford Courant]

August 18, 2011

Good news for north central Connecticut. The state union concessions deal will save the Enfield DMV office and the Enfield Superior Court. Read about it below:

3:08 p.m. EDT, August 18, 2011

Thousands of state jobs were on the line in the SEBAC vote, but so were state services — and plenty of them.

Drivers could have lost their local motor vehicle offices, some regions their courts, some their ferries. Here’s what people who use such services had to say about Thursday’s reprieve.

Despite news of the agreement, those working to save the Rocky Hill-Glastonbury and Chester-Hadlyme ferries said it is only a first step. While the ferries continue to operate, organizers of an effort to keep the boats plying the Connecticut River said they are looking for long-term solutions.
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“If there is anything good coming out of this is, it is the fact that everyone is talking about this and figuring ways to save the ferries,” said Dave Scampoli, a Glastonbury resident who has been fighting to save the service.

“The focus needs to be on fixing the ferry and recognizing there are inefficiencies that must be improved on and other avenues of funding that must be pursued,” he added. “Our dual position must be on preventing the shutdown and keep it from ever happening again. We must get creative and inventive with our suggestions.”

State Department of Transportation Commissioner James P. Redeker had issued layoff notices to the crews that operate both the Rocky Hill-Glastonbury and Chester-Hadlyme ferries. Service was due to end Aug. 25 and it is still unclear what will happen next, although funding to keep the ferries operating was in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s original budget. The DOT will be holding several informational hearings next week to discuss the status of the ferries. DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said Thursday afternoon that no decisions have been made on the ferry status.

Rocky Hill resident and ferry supporter Peter Maxwell said: “I believe the DOT has every intention of closing the ferries regardless, or at least continuing to operate them in a manner that discourages use. That’s what needs to be addressed — management. The ferries have always been an unwanted stepchild for the DOT. The goal needs to be reliable, affordable ferry service. We need to take this momentum and use it to improve the ferry service.”

Keith Abel, a boat salesman at Maritime Boat Sales in Chester, said he was happy to hear that closing the Old Saybrook DMV might not be necessary.

“I come here probably once a week,” Abel said. “With Old Saybrook being what we call boat alley and having a lot of car dealers, this office is important. When we sell a boat we register it for the clients as a convenience.”

Motor vehicles branch offices in Danbury, New Britain, Old Saybrook, and Enfield, along with a satellite office in Putnam and photo license centers in Derby, Middletown and Milford, were all targeted for closure if the unions failed to ratify the savings-and-concessions deal.

Abel said the Old Saybrook location is a convenience to all the marinas in the area.

Don Brusseau of Niantic was in line to register a car for his son on Thursday, and said if smaller offices closed he feared it would “double or triple” the wait times in larger branches. “I hated the thought of having to go to Norwich,” Brusseau said. “If I could do it online it would be even better.”

Deb Quinn and her son James Quinn said if the Old Saybrook office and other offices can be saved, state residents would benefit from shorter wait times at each office. “We have a business so we register a lot of vehicles, so it will be a relief if [Old Saybrook] stays open,” Deb Quinn said.

DMV spokesman William Seymour said the department would wait for approval in the state legislature before any decisions on services are made. The legislature is expected to meet on the latest budget developments Monday.

Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield. said that it was his understanding the deal would save the Enfield office — albeit with reduced services — and the Superior Court, although Enfield correctional is still slated to close.

“My constituents are breathing a sigh of relief. It’s good news for north central Connecticut,” said Kissel. It couldn’t have come at a better time, he said, given the state and national economy.

Besides the convenience of having the services locally and their positive impact on the local economy, Kissel said that he was relieved to hear that the hundreds of state employees in the area would not have to suffer through layoffs.

At the Enfield DMV, a sign on the counter Thursday afternoon still warned of the impending closure. Most residents at the office had not heard the news of the concessions deal.

“Happy, very happy,” Enfield resident Ellen Messek said, describing her feelings on hearing the news, although she said she thought they should keep the office full service, especially because her son would be getting his driver’s license soon. “It was full service and it should stay that way,” she said.

Frank Simeoli, who works for a Ford dealership in Agawam, Mass. said he visits the Enfield DMV almost every day and has been coming for the past 20 years to check vehicle identification numbers, or VINs, and other dealer tasks. If the Enfield DMV stayed open, he said, “I would be the happiest guy in the world.” The employees had taken very good care of him over the years, he said, and he didn’t want to see them go.