2007-08-23 / Editorial

It's time to build a new highway barn


An old islander once told me that Jamestowners can never get anything accomplished without first fighting about it for 10 years.

When you look at the history of past town projects, such as the police station and the wastewater treatment plant, that generalization appears to be true. The state Department of Transportation learned a difficult Jamestown lesson with the design of the cross-island highway. Don't forget that the new, just about complete Town Hall, while never exacting such a divisive debate as other recent efforts, was the topic of for nearly a decade.

We've been arguing about where to build a new highway facility for some 20 years. Next week we'll vote on the matter. On Tuesday, Aug. 28, islanders are asked to approve or reject a referendum authorizing the town to spend $1.5 million to construct a new highway facility adjacent to the Newport Bridge.

The bridge site is an acceptable location. The proposal is sensible and is fiscally prudent. We've fought about the barn for long enough. We should approve the spending, build the facility next to the bridge and move on to other issues.

People do not want the highway facility anywhere near their homes. Notice that the loudest voices in the disagreement over the highway barn site debate are from those south of the bridge and from those who live on the north end near the infamous Lot 47.

According to all the town officials - from the town administrator to the police and fire chiefs, not to mention the public works managers - the site adjacent to the bridge will work just fine. The site meets all of the town's needs. It is also centrally located, which is good if we have a major emergency such as a hurricane. The site is affordable.

As planned, the proposed highway facility next to the bridge will be hard to see when crossing the bay. The facility will be surrounded by foliage. The beautiful vistas of our island will remain unspoiled. When we are crossing the bridge most of us are looking towards the windmill, the farms and West Passage beyond.

Lot 47, touted as the north end alternative, has become less desirable due to several factors. We do not know that the state Department of Environmental Management will ever allow the town to build a facility there. Approval may be needed from the neighbors for the town to construct a road with the necessary drainage. It's doubtful the neighbors will sign off on the drainage.

Lot 47 is also adjacent to the former town landfill. If I owned property close by, I'm fairly certain that I would be concerned about the quality of my well water if the land were disturbed.

Lot 47 could cost a whole lot more money and take many more years before a facility is constructed - if ever. Lot 47 is not an acceptable alternative.

Yes, our public works employees do work in a facility that is less than desirable. The condition of the facility, however, is a management issue. The Town Council could have budgeted the money years ago to improve the place. Maybe we didn't spend the money because we always believed we'd build a new barn the next year.

If we don't approve the referendum next week, why continue wasting our tax dollars on the north end site? The solution is simple. Let's buy a chunk of land across the bay in North Kingstown. Build the highway facility there.

We should keep the highway barn here on our own island. Let's approve the referendum on Tuesday.

I'm sure we can find something else to argue about.

- Jeff McDonough

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