Council agrees to oppose LNG terminal
In its first full meeting, the new Town Council this week tackled myriad subjects ranging from routine business to major issues. The council’s response to the proposed liquefied natural gas terminal, and long-term concerns about municipal funding, were among the more substantial topics on the table.
Council member Ellen Winsor, who has launched a working group of local professionals opposed to the LNG proposal, presented an overview of the group and urged the council to start drafting a resolution against the proposal as quickly as possible.
Referring to the Amerada Hess subsidiary that has tried for years to obtain a federal permit for an LNG terminal, Winsor said, “Weaver’s Cove has invested $100 million in their endeavor,” and added that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could issue its environmental impact statement for the proposal before the end of the year.
The council agreed to formally ask Town Administrator Bruce Keiser to draft the resolution, which will state that regular LNG shipments up the East Passage would adversely affect all Jamestowners, their economy and their environment. Once final, the resolution will be forwarded to Rhode Island’s state and federal lawmakers.
In subsequent remarks to the council, State Rep. Deborah Ruggiero said that the General Assembly recently passed a resolution (H6447) requesting that the Coast Guard reconsider its conclusion that berthing the LNG tankers in the middle of Mt. Hope Bay would be reasonably risk free. Ruggiero, who co-sponsored the resolution, said the request has also been sent to President Obama, the congressional delegation and the secretary of Homeland Security.
Another of the proposals from Winsor was a recommendation to establish a budget committee “think tank” to advise the council on budget options and processes “in view of the economy, in general, and state cutbacks, in particular.”
Council member Michael White noted that he has opposed the proliferation of town committees, adding, “Our record on the budget process is a good one. We haven’t raised taxes and we plan to have an open budget process.”
Although Ruggiero said she didn’t think the legislature was likely to enact Governor Carcieri’s request to eliminate motor vehicle excise tax reimbursements to Rhode Island municipalities – which annually provides Jamestown with approximately $400,000 – Keiser said the town is still searching for ways to save money in every possible area, including personnel costs and town services.
Resident Gary Girard told the council that he had served on a municipal financial committee in Massachusetts, where such panels are required, and that “we went over every budget for every department.” The group wouldn’t take any authority from the council or the town administrator, he added, and it is something worth considering because “it’s not just another citizen’s group.”
The council voted down the proposal, 4-to-1.
In other business:
• Former council member Bob Sutton updated the council on the status of plans to design a bike path throughout Jamestown. The Bike Path Committee has spent the last four months focusing on a “connector” route between the east and west shores, Sutton said, announcing that the advisory group has settled on a route that would include the water department right-of-way along the south end of the reservoir, an unused stretch of Eldred Avenue west of Rt. 138 and Eldred Avenue itself.
All of the connector route would be paved. A recommendation for the western run of the bike path (on North Main Road) will be issued by mid-2010, but, for now, Sutton said, the advisory group will be working with Town Engineer Michael Gray, and other staff, to perform a survey in support of a connector plan for Department of Environmental Management review – and to look for federal, along with state Transportation Department, opportunities for funding assistance.
Sutton added that the connector would use only town-owned property, which means easements wouldn’t have to be purchased. There would be a chain link fence along the water department rightof way, but resident Rosemary Woodside assailed the idea of allowing the public to roam along the reservoir and potentially pollute it.
Former School Committee member William “Bucky” Brennan reminded the council that the town has not found a site to permanently store its school buses, and argued that the old stretch of Eldred Avenue should be paved with sufficient depth to bear the weight of buses, thereby keeping open the Eldred Avenue option for bus storage.
• Former council member Bill Kelly presented a conceptual plan for the rehabilitation of the East Ferry pier. The council endorsed the initiative, and expressed particular support for the idea of replacing the existing float with a new touch-and-go dock. Because additional touch-and-go dockage is already in the works for the end of the wooden pier, the town could use this dockage to park its fire and harbormaster boats without sacrificing space for recreational boaters – while saving $7,000 a year in rent. The council approved a $2,000 Harbor Commission outlay for the architectural drawings necessary to start a full-scale cost estimate.
• The council approved by a 4-to-1 vote the re-appointment of the town solicitor and prosecutor, and the planning-and-zoning solicitor. Without impugning the quality of the work they perform, Winsor said she felt that those positions should be put out to bid. But other council members argued that there wasn’t any guarantee that the low bidders would perform as well as the incumbents, and that it wouldn’t be wise to bring in new solicitors just as collective bargaining with the various unions is launched.
• The council agreed to slate for its Jan. 4 meeting a Taxpayers Association presentation on an analysis of the benefits provided to town employees in comparison to those provided in the private sector.
• The council declined to accept a Winsor proposal for the formation of a committee to advise the council on debt service and infrastructure issues, and assigned that work to the Water and Sewer Committee. The council also declined a Winsor proposal to provide open forums before the start of each meeting, with the majority of the members arguing that one such forum was enough – and that it was best to hear public comments around the time that agenda items are discussed.
• The council agreed to a sixmonth moratorium on duplex and multi-family building permits to remedy an editing oversight in the new zoning amendments, which, as currently written, would allow too much density in the R-8, R-20 and downtown areas without a change to the language on such dwellings.
The only speaker scheduled for the open forum was Arthur Christman, who asked Winsor for confirmation that the sole-source aquifer designation requested in a petition to the Environmental Protection Agency “means that we all drink from the same cup.” Told that this was true, Christman urged the council to develop an ordinance that would “heavily fine” anyone who uses sprinklers during periods of water-use restrictions, unless people watering lawns and gardens are drawing the water from cisterns.
The next meeting of the Town Council will be held Monday, Jan. 4. A goal-setting meeting has been pushed back to January, and a Ft. Wetherill workshop has been scheduled – separately from a council meeting – for Jan. 25.