2005-12-29 / Front Page

Year in Review

A look back at the island news of 2005

By Dotti Farrington

In some ways, 2005 was similar to 2004 for town government: it did not resolve the problem of a much-needed public works barn; and it spent much time looking for a new town administrator.

At this year’s end, the town is ready to welcome a new administrator. Bruce Keiser, the director of administrative services for the town of South Kingstown since September 1989 and a career government employee in Rhode Island since 1978, will become the town administrator of Jamestown, effective Jan. 16.

To barn or

not to barn

The status of the highway barn, however, remains murky. It has been mired in debate, sometimes through disrespectful words from individuals on both sides of any proposed solution.

In April, momentary hoopla broke out in the Town Council’s audience, including cheers of “All right! All right!” when the councilors approved the former landfill on North Main Road for the new highway barn site, with a projected cost of $1.1 million. The decision happened after more than two decades of dawdling and contention about where to put the barn.

Mark Haddad, who served as town administrator for only six months before taking a job in the private sector, and Michael Gray, town engineer and deputy public works director, brought in the barn plans for the landfill with a revised scheme about location within the site. The barn would be set near the front entrance to the existing town transfer station at the former town landfill. The 12,000-square-foot barn, with doors to its nine bays, would face the road.

A site abutting the landfill was rejected after a fierce fight led by residents of the island’s north end, who feared well-water pollution if land in the landfill area was disturbed by construction. Next, voters rejected a barn at Taylor Point because of location or the more than $2 million estimated cost, or both reasons. The latest plan for the front end of the landfill is being fought by fewer north end residents, but as ferociously as ever.

The councilors have conceded in part by promising well-water tests on 13 properties surrounding the proposed barn site. The test results would be factors in any north-end residents’ claim for extension of town water if well pollution were to occur.

Plenty of

positive points

In April, applause welcomed council approval of the current Town Hall site at 93 Narragansett Ave. for a new two-story 10,000square-foot town office complex. The councilors praised their Town Buildings and Facilities Committee, chaired by Arek Galle, for its work to form the town hall recommendation.

William Burgin of Jamestown, a Newport-based, award-winning architect, delighted those at the unveiling of his town hall design in November. He projected completion of the complex by next Christmas. The subject of a 1999 public survey, action to build a consolidated office complex was delayed by discussions about location and costs.

Voters will be asked to approve specific construction costs, now estimated at $2.1 million, at the annual financial town meeting, which will be held June 5.

Expanding land

esthetics

The Councilors named a committee of land bargaining experts in mid-year to negotiate purchase of developmental rights to 160 acres of farmland owned by three parties. If purchased, the farmland would link more than 1,000 contiguous acres of land protected by public or conservation organization ownership in Jamestown’s so-called Center Island District. Purchase of farm rights was being discussed by local, state, and federal agencies with conservation groups and private funding sources.

If funding is found, the Center Island would be enhanced by a mile-long path. Work to gain state and federal grants is part of the district plan featuring farmland, an Audubon Society-owned salt marsh, freshwater wetlands, municipal water-supply reservoirs, the Jamestown Community Farm, the Windmill Historic District, a nine-hole town-owned golf course, town-owned soccer fields, and scenic vistas.

Paws project

No decision has been made on deposition of the delapidated town buildings at West Street and Southwest Avenue when they are replaced by the new town hall. Renovation of the Southwest Avenue garage, used storage until recently for town record, is underway for an animal shelter under the volunteer leadership of Town Councilor Barbara Szepatowski, the owner of Paws & Claws, a pet center on Narragansett Avenue. Szepatowski hopes to have the shelter open by Feb. 14.

Fort Getty

The councilors approved the re-appointment of the Fort Getty Master Plan Committee through March 2006 to oversee hiring a consultant and starting the implementation of its proposals for setting a new land-use plan for the town-owned park. The plan calls for many improvements for seasonal campers, as well as an expansion of uses of the park for townspeople.

Water works

Last month, the council awarded a $1,169,220 contract for a second million-gallon water tower on Howland Avenue, on the same lot where the existing water tower stands. In November 2004, voters, 2,055 to 1,007, approved funds to build a second water tower as part of a $6.2 million bond issue to cover several municipal water projects.

Replacement of 7,500 feet of the town’s 20 miles of water mains is set for next year. All mains, some nearly 100 years old, are due to be replaced over the next four decades. The costs of the work is being spread out to reduce impact on water customers.

Next year’s work will include the replacement of 20 fire hydrants and 114 water service connections from the mains to property lines at a cost of about $860,000.

Plans for the new water treatment plant on North Main Road are due next spring, with award of the contract expected in September 2006. Budgeted for $3.82 million, that project has been delayed by the need to redesign because of site difficulties, including the path of hurricane winds and encroachment on wetlands.

Rehabilitation plans for the wastewater treatment plant at Taylor Point are due to be discussed in detail next month.

Amplitude of awards

Next year the town continues under the reign of Town Clerk Arlene Petit, who was recently designated state Town Clerk of the Year by the Rhode Island Society of Professional Land Surveyors.

Among the long list of achievements by Petit and her staff is her significant role in the acquisition of a historic document. Petit alerted residents able to buy the nine-page relic at a New York auction on behalf of the Jamestown Historical Society.

A copy of the deed — described as the founding document of the town — was part of official town records, but the status of the original was not known until it was placed for auction this year. For the sum of $24,000, town officials were pleased to regain in July what the town should have had all along. The document details how 100 Newport land seekers bought and divided the 6,000 acres of Jamestown mainly for its value as pasture after buying this Conanicut island from the Narragansett Indians more than 300 years ago. They paid a contemporary equivalent of about $20,000. Those 6,000 acres are now valued at $10 billion.

The historical society committed itself to spend up to $20,000 for the document. Ken Newman, a self-appointed benefactor of the society, was able to win the bid after it topped $20,000 and was out of reach of the society’s designated bidder. The historical society is now owner and permanent caretaker of the original document.

Since the summer, the society has been raising the balance it needs to buy, preserve, and display the document. Contributions can still be made to: The Jamestown Historical Society, P.O. Box 156, Jamestown, RI 02835.

Thrice “Tree City”

Jamestown earned its third consecutive title as a Rhode Island recipient of a Tree City USA designation. Tree Warden David Nickerson and his cohorts already are counting on earning the designation again in 2006.

Safe speed supporter

The town recently honored Richard Wing of North Main Road for his volunteer services. Wing offered to deploy the police department’s speed-monitoring trailer to curb speeding. He began doing it May 23. Since then, he has set up the trailer 105 times at various locations for a total of 1,206.5 hours of monitoring. He also designed a security device for the trailer.

The police have been emphasizing traffic safety. They conducted 894 traffic stops and issued 903 citations, according to the department’s 2004 annual report issued several weeks ago. The totals reflected 500 more stops and 599 more citations than the previous year.

The town continues to receive annual awards for no pedestrian deaths, attributed to ongoing safety promotion efforts of the department.

Anti-pollution praise

The town earned its second award in four years for its wastewater treatment plant at Taylor Point as the most efficient small wastewater treatment plant in Rhode Island. The award was presented in May.

Receiving the citation were Douglas Ouellette, plant superintendent, and his assistants, David Greene, and Paul Robertson. Ouellette said, “We’re just doing the job for the town, having a well-operating facility, and keeping the bay clean. It’s not about winning awards.” Town officials praised the workers. The town was selected on the basis of results of on-going testing overseen by the state Department of Environmental Management.

Recycling reward

Jamestown earned an $11,145 award from the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation as one of 11 state communities to share $300,000 in grants for their successful recycling programs. The town hopes to earn at least $15,000 in the next round of awards to further improve its recycling efforts. Councilman William Kelly, working with Steven Goslee and Michael Gray, public works department heads, oversees the grants goal.

“Cowboy” crew

Andrew Munafo and Steven Bonner, members of the town public works department, placed third in the 10th annual Rhode Island Snow Plowing Rodeo in Warwick.

It was the first time the town was represented at the rodeo for the tests of equipment handling skills by 18 participating teams. Teams were judged on their ability to parallel park a truck while towing a compressor, backing a 10-ton vehicle through a course using a spotter, a snow plow slalom, and a road kill toss.

Weather or not

Last winter’s blizzard and snow storms bumped the public works budget into overspent status as one of two accounts in which more was spent than was budgeted.

Legal reign

The other overspent account was legal expenses, which had to do mostly with issues other than weather. One significant legal matter that continues is the town’s pursuit since mid-2004 of Siegmund and Associates for $1.1 million in damages the town claims resulted because the Siegmund engineering consultants did not adequately supervise the $7 million in sewer-system repairs on the island. The lawsuit is part of the arbitration in which Laszlo Siegmund, formerly of Jamestown, and his Providence firm is seeking $50,000 because the town cancelled its contract with Siegmund’s firm and hired Vollmer Associates of Boston to complete the work.

Real rain

The past year saw wide ranges of precipitation, from drought in warm weather, to deluges and flooding in more recent months.

Another kind

of dousing

Some might consider it to be better not to review this episode, but others are satisfied with the outcome: a nasty claim that one or more volunteer firemen might have been involved in “conduct unbecoming” was ended after a state police investigation that declared the allegation to be unfounded . . . but not before the charges were reported throughout the state.

Hurricane helpers

Townspeople — always versatile volunteers for various tasks — responded in a multitude of manners to the needs of Katrina victims. A dramatic way was exemplified by Ed Booth, the then-just retired Jamestown postmaster.

Jamestowners — individually and as members of work, church and school groups — made a multitude of direct and indirect connections across the approximately 1,500 miles to survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Booth became a self-defined dispenser of critical aide to survivors. He drove south and with many locals funding his handouts, completed a mission of legendary proportion.

Booth earned a reputation and lots of love for his role over the years in assuring that letters from Jamestown children to Santa were delivered, and sometimes answered in special, secret ways. His adventures in September were both heartwarming and heartrending. His journal of those experiences continues on the Web site: www.dbooth.net/ed.

It continues to be worthy of reading and rereading.

Now, read this

Town officials plan to ask voters at the upcoming June 5 financial town meeting to add a category to the list of tax exemptions as a result of the advocacy work of resident Gemma Guinguing, 2004-05 Miss Deaf Rhode Island.

She works in a number of ways to promote fair treatment of deaf people. One effort is getting them a tax exemption that is the same as that blind people already have, even though she would not benefit personally if the intended exemption were adopted.

Guinguing has been a volunteer for about two years with town rescue workers, teaching police and firefighters sign language. She also teaches sign language privately to individuals.

In response to her proposal for an exemption for deaf people, the councilors researched exemptions elsewhere in the state.They decided to provide exemptions for individuals limited by any disability and petitioned the state legislature for authorization to proceed. The council’s intended exemption ordinance applies to property owners with disabilities as defined under federal Social Security regulations, who are also in a low income bracket as defined by federal standards.

Guinguing does not agree with the way the federal qualifications would be applied, but she believes it is a measure of fairness to extend exemptions to all people with disabilities.

“I hope people become aware that everyone cannot hear perfectly and cannot understand everything. If people could respect the deaf and write things down, that would be appreciated,” Miss Deaf RI said.

People who want to contact her about lessons or about her advocacy work can e-mail her at GeJs107@aol.com.

Speedy sessions

Voters this year elected their last springtime batch of candidates. The town’s future elections will be conducted in November every other year, starting in 2007.

The current group of councilors has fallen into a pattern of much shorter meetings and an almost staid level of activity. The short sessions, however, seem to be offset by more executive sessions on legal matters, land transactions, and the business of finding and keeping a town administrator.

Also contributing to the trend of brevity is a somewhat confusing set of rulings, still unfolding, on what councilors can or cannot say in response to residents’ comments during the open forum portion of council meetings. Rather than say something that might be illegal in terms of discussing items not listed on the agenda, councilors are sticking with limiting their reponses to a simple “Thank you.”

Absent arguers

Another example of time being tempered was the latest public hearing this month on three ordinances pertaining to storm-water drainage. No citizens even attended the meeting. The councilors unanimously adopted the new regulations. The local ordinances were mandated by state law to put into effect by Dec. 31 to comply with federal regulations governing storm-water discharge into the nation’s waters.

In noting the lack of public commentators on the proposals, Council President David Long ascertained that the hearing had been properly advertised. He then declared that he was confident that residents know how to make themselves heard when they have any concerns. “The people are diligent about responding,” he said.

Temporary

silence on noise

Noise laws have been under consideration at least three years. There were four sessions on proposed laws this year, but no action was taken. A hearing was to be set, probably for January, on what to do with the latest draft of noise ordinance.

Most councilors would prefer no noise laws, but local police said they need something, almost anything, to give them what little leverage they might need when any resident files a complaint about noise. In support of police, the councilors agreed to ask citizens what they think.

Some residents, mainly in the village area, affected by both rowdy merrymakers and necessary pre-dawn trash pickup clankings, want a cap on decibel levels.

Libertarian-types fear unconstitutional interference with sound-making rights. Some of the debate has been loud and rancorous.

Political civility

Seating and officer selection of the new council was a ballet of courtesy and gallantry. David Long was elected president as he started his fourth term and Julio DiGiando was elected vice president as he started his second term. Both are Democrats, serving with three council newcomers.

In the June 1 election by town voters, recounted and upheld, Long tied with Republican newcomer Barbara Szepatowski, as top vote getter. The councilor with the most votes traditionally is named council president in the selection among councilors themselves. Long was vice president for the immediate past council and previously served a term as president. Szepatowski nominated him for president, and Long’s selection was unanimous.

Newcomer William Kelly, who ran as an Independent with Democratic endorsement, nominated Szepatowksi for vice president. DiGiando seconded the nomination. Democratic newcomer Michael Schnack nominated DiGiando for vice president and Szepatowski seconded it. Kelly said if his choice was seconding her own opponent then he might need to withdraw his nomination. Szepatowski cited DiGiando’s experience on the council and said, “I can use all the guidance” that might result from that service. Kelly withdrew his nomination for Szepatowski and DiGiando was elected unanimously as council vice president.

Kaboom

Not as in fireworks, which annually are spectacular, and not even in fear of liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker explosions. This year’s Kaboom was completion of contracts for the ultimate Kaboom: demolition of the old Jamestown Bridge in 2006. Staging areas for workers have been carved out at both ends of the bridge in recent months. Detailed plans are being awaited, including those for a public hearing to be set on how bridge removal will be carried out. Local speculation has evolved about whether it will be one big blast or a bit-by-bit deconstruction. “Caution: Demolition Site” signs have been posted on each pier of the old bridge and specifics are due soon.

LNG

Officials in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, including the governors and federal legislators of those states, continue to oppose a proposed new liquid natural gas terminal in Fall River, Mass. Federal approval was given in July to the Fall River plan. At that time, a proposal for expansion of the natural gas terminal in Providence was rejected. A review of the Fall River plan on appeal at the federal level is pending.

Meanwhile, would-be operators of Weaver’s Cove Fall River facility are acting as if the plan is full-speed forward. But opponents have turned over to lawyers the main action in the ongoing fight that is expected to take at least a few more years to settle.

State Rep. Bruce Long (RJamestown, Middletown) has taken a lead role in the state’s effort to battle the perceived dangers to shorefront residents from oversized LNG tankers using Narragansett Bay to access Fall River. Town Councilor Barbara Szepatowski is liaison for all LNG events and activities that reflect on Jamestown’s security. The council as a whole had its town solicitor register local opposition at the federal level. That action followed a messy melee in which the state attorney general pushed for the town to buy into a joint legal action against the Fall River plan.

Miscellany

Out of 4,585 registered voters on the island, 1,941 voters, including 49 absentees, cast ballots in June’s election. It was the town’s last springtime election. Starting in 2007, the election of town officials will be held in November.

Some 265 residents, from among 4,602 eligible voters — less than one percent — signed in for the annual financial town meeting in June. It was the first June annual meeting. Previously, the meetings were conducted in March, including 2004 when a unique 16-month budget was adopted.

The voting calendar changes reflect town home rule charter changes made to bring the town in line with the fiscal calendars — July 1 through June 30 — of most other local, state and federal entities.

The current budget is $17,648,168. The tax rate was set at $9.06 to raise the $14,453,731 needed to fund the approved budget.

Rescue workers

Town Councilors in May approved a new system of incentives for emergency medical service volunteers that paralleled the incentive system adopted a few months earlier for volunteer firefighters.

The basic incentives package cost $60,000 the first year. It is intended to attract enough volunteer rescue workers to avoid the town having to create a paid department that would cost about $1 million a year. The incentives were proposed two years ago because the town was experiencing difficulty getting enough workers for firefighting and for ambulance calls to provide timely response.

Rhody milk

First-year sales by the 18month-old Rhody Milk dairy cooperative, that includes Jamestown farmer Joseph Dutra, totaled 113,724 cases. The dairy farmers had projected they would sell 86,400 cases.

For the birds

Ospreys as a major Jamestown attraction were proposed at a council meeting early in 2005. Ospreys are the large, graceful hawks that were once near extinction in Rhode Island and elsewhere.

A small project to give local students an Internet look into one of the five osprey nests on the island was started by the town Conservation Commission. It mounted a camcorder on the osprey nest at Marsh Meadows on North Main Road with a $2,000 grant from the newly organized Jamestown Educational Association.

The Conservation Commission also wanted to build an overlook deck, including a wheelchairaccessible platform, for viewing the nest. Concerns about traffic and safety stalled that aspect of the project. The camcorder continues to transmit reports of osprey while on the island and while migrating. It can be seen at www.jamestownri.net.

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