Town should keep valuable land
The editor of the Press had previously requested readers' opinions on what to do with the old highway barn. On Monday, Oct 20, Jamestown had the first unpublicized so- called 'workshop' on that subject.
As one of the first persons to voice an opinion, I stated that the location is a jewel on the bay, that it must remain in our hands, that it should not be a burden on the taxpayers and that it should produce income for the town. To accomplish this, I suggested a tactic similar to the one used by the US government at national parks which gives a 99-year lease to reputable firms engaged in the tourist industry to rehab, manage and run the buildings and concessions in return for allowing them an equitable profit. To solve the often-cited ISDS problem, I suggested that we have sufficient land located in the park on the 1.62 acres that DEM confiscated from the town in 1988, shown on the plat map as Newport Street.
A real workshop is supposed to solicit input from the citizenry. It became obvious that as soon as the first suggestions were aired, that certain members of the Council were not interested in other people's ideas, none but their own.
Even the presentation was geared toward council members and not toward the people. The presenter addressed the Council with his back to the audience and without a microphone, making it difficult for the audience to hear.
Waiting in the wings was the real elephant in the room, Dr. Sullivan, head of RIDEM who wants to acquire it for an unspecified amount, to expand their activities in a building that would employ four non-revenue producing personnel. This would of course be accomplished by using RI taxpayer dollars (ours) from an empty treasury.
What can we expect in the way of compensation? Let history point the way. In 1980, Jamestown leased 20 waterfront acres on Beavertail to DEM for 80 years for zero dollars. We should demand that the Council renegotiate that lease. In 1988, DEM unilaterally confiscated the northwestern boundary of Fort Wetherill Park, Newport Street, 1.62 acres for zero dollars, a crime that none of the council members, past or present have had the courage to address and to demand rent for Jamestown taxpayers.
A word to the Boat Owners Association: your agreement is with the town. If that property is sold to the state, they may promise you a sweetheart deal to allow you to stay there. But like so many of their broken promises to the National Park Service, such as putting the Harbor Entrance Control Post on the National Register of Historic Places and to turn it into a reception center at Beavertail, you can forget that promise. Besides, it would only take one lawsuit from an off-islander challenging Jamestown's exclusive use of state property for berthing purposes, and you are history.
People pay $2,200 for a sevenhour Saturday event to the Narragansett Towers with additional fees for tables and chairs ranging from $650 to $950. Local catering businesses provide food at additional cost. This shows how much ocean front property is sought after. Similar use here on the island can create income and jobs for many, instead of being a drain on RI taxpayers.
We must keep all of that property and sell none of it. Oceanfront property in Jamestown is slowly disappearing, some into the hands of abutters like on High Street. We must not allow them or the state or a few council members who seem to be clueless as to how revenue is generated, to stand in the way of the wishes of the majority. Calling that World War II traffic intensive staging area for mines and anti-submarine nets, still made up mostly of bricks, cement and steel, ecologically sensitive, is a tactic designed to keep others out. It is symptomatic of the hermit crab attitude, move into what others have created or bought and try anything to keep others out.
Personally, I believe that when the vote comes up to sell to DEM, read - abandon the site like Newport Street or the 20 acres, that any member of the Council who has had any financial or personal affiliation with RIDEM should recuse themselves.