2007-08-23 / Front Page

Vote Tuesday on public works garage

By Donna K. Drago

There is just one question on next Tuesday's ballot and it asks voters to either approve or reject the construction and funding of a highway garage on property at upper Taylor Point.

Specifically, the question reads: "Shall an act, passed at the 2007 session of the General Assembly, entitled 'An act authorizing the Town of Jamestown to finance the construction of a highway garage at a site to be acquired from the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority and adjacent town land, and to issue not more than $1,500,000 bonds and notes therefore be approved?"

Canvassing clerk Karen Montoya said on Aug. 28, two polling sites will be open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Residents who live in District 1 will vote at the community center and those in Districts 2 and 3 will cast ballots at the Melrose Avenue School, Montoya said. She noted that when two polling places are used, typically one is the Lawn Avenue School, but the state election board decided on Melrose for this election.

To find out which district to vote in, call the Town Hall or go to www.state.ri.us and click on Voter Information Center. The site will allow voters to check their voter status, view the ballot and locate their district.

Anyone who has been a registered voter in Jamestown prior to July 28 of this year is eligible to vote on the referendum, Montoya said. There will be no further voter registrations taken for this particular election, she added.

Montoya said in her nearly 10 years in her position, she has never run a special referendum election, so she cannot predict voter turnout. The last time the town held a similar election, was almost 20 years ago, in November 1987. At that time, 1,037 of a possible 3,024 voters turned out to approve a question on $5 million for open space and recreation bonds.

If approved, the $1.5 million barn, will be 60-feet wide, by 200- feet long, by 23-feet tall and sited 35-feet north of the Pell Newport Bridge, and 50-feet from Freebody Drive. To get to the barn, one would drive in on the same road used to access the Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The current highway facility is a crumbling, former military building at Ft. Wetherill that long ago outlived its usefulness. Discussions have been underway for more than two decades to build a new garage somewhere on the island.

Groups pro and con have been rallying forces, buying ads, writing letters and launching vigorous campaigns to get the vote to swing their way.

Among the opponents of the Taylor Point site is the group Taxpayers for a Sensible Highway Barn, led by Christine Ferguson of Bayview Drive, which is asking voters to reject the current proposal in favor of a barn at Lot 47, adjacent to the town's transfer station at the north end of the island. They argue that Lot 47 is the only site large enough for both indoor and outdoor storage of equipment and supplies, that Taylor Point is too visible and at "Jamestown's front door," and that the costs to build at Taylor Point will be higher than at Lot 47, among other things.

Heavily supporting the Taylor Point site are north end citizens who don't want a garage on Lot 47, including Jamestowners for a Town Highway Barn NOW! led by George Souza, who say that building at the proposed site would be more economical than a 2004 proposal at a nearby location, would have no impact on nearby residents and offers a central location to allow faster response by highway workers, among other things.

The most disputed reason not to build a garage at Lot 47 has been the possible contamination of nearby wells from the old landfill.

Town Council President David Long supports a highway barn at the Taylor Point site and hopes that voters will approve the current proposal on Tuesday.

Long said, "There has been a lot of printed misinformation coming from citizens of both the North End and Taylor Point." He suggested "islanders base their decision on the conclusions and recommendations of the police and fire chiefs, the highway department, town council, town administrator, town planner, RI Emergency Management Agency, and others who have poured their time and sweat into moving this issue forward in a responsible, professional manner."

Town Administrator Bruce Keiser hopes voters will approve a barn at upper Taylor Point. Keiser said "both the bridge site and Lot 47 are viable siting locations," adding that "each will accommodate the same sized barn and yard space as well as all material storage for daily needs."

But according to Keiser, the differences that voters should consider when making the decision are that the benefits of the bridge site are "Costs and the timetable to construct are known and predictable, " and "Public water is available for vehicle wash-downs, locker facilities, and fire suppression." Keiser added that the "sewer service will handle facility wastewater," and "the center island location is preferable for disaster response."

The Press will post election results on the Website on Tuesday night after the polls close and will report on the future of the highway barn in next week's edition.

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