2005-12-01 / News

Utility turns off Rotary light display

By Donna K. Drago

It was an island tradition for so long that no one can put their finger on an exact date. The big, chunky, colorful strings of holiday lights that used to criss-cross Narragansett Avenue from pole to pole will not be put up this year, or any other for that matter. The electric company that owns the poles has said no.

The wonderfully funky lights were of the era when folks had aluminum foil trees that were illuminated with multi-colored rotating spotlights, Burl Ives was alive to croon about “Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer,” and Charlie Brown was first teased for his choice of a puny Christmas tree.

Win Reed, a longtime member of the Jamestown Rotary Club, said his organization has sponsored the light display since “around the sixties,” called the end of the tradition “very sad.”

Reed said that they were notified by Narragansett Electric last year that they would not renew their permit to string the lights from poles owned by the company. “We put ‘em up anyway,” Reed said, but he noted that because Rotarians are generally law-abiding citizens, they decided they could not continue to break the rules.

Reed said the Rotary Club used to wrap natural holly and greens around the lights before having the island’s fire department actually do the work to hang them across the street.

“We checked them over and made repairs each fall,” Reed said about the Rotarians, adding that the lights were kept in the fire station.

Now, for the first time in four decades, the lights will remain coiled up in a box.

David Graves, a spokesman for National Grid, which recently took over Narragansett Electric, said Tuesday that the company imposed an across the board ban on decorative displays on light poles by towns and other organizations.

“The issue is safety,” Graves said. “We take this very seriously,” he added.

With more than 160 towns in Massachusetts and 38 in Rhode Island to service, “it became impossible to police all the displays” to ensure that everyone was using the safest practices to hang lights and banners, Graves said.

“We have to protect the public and our own employees,” he said.

Despite the lack of colored lights, the village will still be lit up this holiday season, thanks to the efforts of the Jamestown Chamber of Commerce.

Mike Swistak, president of the chamber, said that the organization recently purchased new white lights for the trees on either side of Narragansett Avenue.

“Some of the merchants buy their own and donate them,” Swistak noted.

The lights were put up last Saturday using a bucket truck, provided by Jack’s Electric and manpower from the Jamestown Fire Department, Swistak said.

Before the week is out, the Secret Garden will further adorn the village trees with red and gold bows, Swistak added.

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