2006-06-29 / Front Page

Council will hear more about East Ferry piers

By Dotti Farrington

Members of the Harbor Management Commission Monday brought their annual request to the Town Council to curtail public access to the townowned piers at East Ferry, citing nighttime vandalism and littering as chief concerns. A lack of public restrooms was also cited as a source of much displeasure, as well as a health factor.

The discussion ranged from the location being unsafe at night for evening strolls to its being the best fishing place on the island much of the time.

The councilors turned the harbor commissioners' request for limited hours aside, assigning the matter to Town Administrator Bruce Keiser. They said they wanted an him to give them an update at the July 10 council meeting.

Keiser told the council that he and town staff leaders believe they can manage the problems rather than close the piers. He said Police Chief Thomas Tighe has already increased patrolling in the area and town crews can be assigned to help control litter.

Keiser outlined what he has learned about fishing runs and concluded the area needs better management and response, not curtailment.

The councilors by consensus authorized him to spend funds for more trash barrels from the current budget that closes tomorrow, June 30, as one measure to better manage the location.

Speakers talked about littering and about problems that were created by the public restrooms that are closed at night, but no one described any vandalism since town vessels were damaged two years ago.

One or more residents said they believed the problems reflect activities affecting private boats and docks, and not the public areas of the waterfront. Some speakers also insisted that closing the two town-owned piers to anglers must include closing the piers to all uses, including recreational boating and the docking of commercial vessels, as a matter of equity. Even primary complainants do not want that to happen.

William Munger, owner of Conanicut Marina at East Ferry, acknowledged that at least some problems exist on the private vessels and facilities under his control. He said he added an overnight watchman five years ago to help secure those properties that are his responsibility. He also said he had filed reports with police about activities affecting private properties under his control.

Town Council President David Long did not recognize Munger to speak until the end of the 30minute discussion.

The recommendation from the harbor commission was to close the piers from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., with proponents ready to compromise on a midnight to 5 a.m. closing.

Long said that he opposed any or most restrictions of the piers, primarily because of rulings in the past about requirements that the areas be kept open as a condition of federal grants used to build or repair the piers. He scoffed at a harbor commissioner's comparison of naval bases being restricted to the public even though they are funded by public moneys.

During the discussion, various elements were blamed as main contributors to the problems. These included non-resident anglers, some given ethnic descriptions that Long ruled out of order. Other speakers disputed the notion that anglers, whether residents or not, were to blame. Adults partying too much was at least partly discounted by the report of Council Vice President Julio DiGiando, who said that in his personal treks around the waterfront, he found little evidence of excessive drinking. DiGiando noted that one container he did find was of a better quality than he would buy for himself. That left the suggestion by Councilman William Kelly that the vandalism might be by teens and no one spoke to defend them or ask for evidence.

Kelly asked about the role the town harbormaster had in waterfront supervision. The police chief laughed, and the councilor expressed his annoyance. "I want an answer. It is a question that ought to be addressed," Kelly said.

Councilman Michael Schnack questioned a harbor commission suggestion that the state Department of Environmental Management refused to respond to fishing complaints because they do not have staff and need two people to respond because of safety concerns. Schnack elicited a report from the police chief that DEM and local police have an understanding about teaming up, as needed, to pursue waterfront complaints.

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