2010-04-28 / Editorial

Let’s be thoughtful about Ft. Getty

By Mary Meagher

The Ft. Getty Master Plan Committee, on which I served as chair, took seriously the 2004 Town Council’s charge to enhance local residents’ use of the park. After much research and many public meetings, we produced a plan approved by the council in 2005.

Lawless Engineering provided a topographic survey and Landscape Architect Don Sharp created a site plan that moved the RV campground to the eastern side of the hill, reduced it to 80 sites and made the top of the hill a park.

This site plan was approved by the council in 2006.

The committee lived through three town administrators, each with different notions of funding. Town Planner Lisa Bryer got a grant for historic parks from R.I. DEM. By 2006, we were ready to begin reorganizing parking areas and protecting beaches, but needed the help of the town engineer and public works department.

The town, however, had other ideas.

Town Hall, the highway barn, and water and sewer improvements took priority. So, we added to tent camping and worked on plans for a rec. department garage.

Simultaneously, the Wind Committee was established and from early on, Ft. Getty was a possible location for a wind turbine. In 2008, a local non-profit sailing organization, known as F.A.S.T., offered to help build a sailing facility at the park. Its plan included a town-owned building that could house a townsponsored sailing program in the summer, while F.A.S.T. would use it during the off seasons.

But the council was unsure about the F.A.S.T. proposal and the organization withdrew its offer. The current council chose not to seek grants for a possible turbine at Ft. Getty because its impact on the park was unclear. Last winter, our committee was developing a new questionnaire to gauge public sentiment about these issues when the current council decided we had completed our job. Alternative committees have been proposed, but it is unclear which, if any, the council will support.

What is clear is that the council wants to do something – and Ft. Getty needs attention.

The RV campground is beset by electrical problems. National Grid believes it has rectified the problem of “stray voltage,” but won’t know until the park is full.

The town upgraded the electrical service in 1994, at a cost of over $200,000. It provided each site with 30 amps of electrical service, but the larger RVs now popular at Ft. Getty require 50 amps. Although most campers use adapters, the disparity prompts many service disruptions and repair calls, paid for by the town.

The water lines in the park are old. The existing bathrooms are currently being repaired, but probably need to be completely renovated or replaced. The gatehouse is tiny and has no services. The Rembijas Pavilion is not built to survive a hurricane, according to the current building code. And the boat ramp is only usable at high tide.

The RV campers have endured inconveniences to live in this beautiful spot. Many return each year, creating a summer community that asks little of its landlord. The campground dominates the park in summer and is one of Jamestown’s biggest revenue sources, netting the town over $250,000 a year – 12.5 cents per thousand on the tax rolls or about $50 for a house valued at $400,000. Tent camping produces $30,000 and the pavilion another $15,000 (all figures are approximate).

New electrical service and adequate water for the campground will likely cost the town no less than $700,000. How much more to fix the current pavilion? Or build a new one? The Harbor Commission wants to improve the boat ramp, but that requires better parking.

Most essential in any discussion of Ft. Getty is an assessment of its best use. Is revenue most important? Should it be a campground? If so, what type or how big? Do we want open space? Should we create a facility where all can learn to sail? Should we put a wind turbine there?

To pick and choose from these possibilities is to create a plan. To simply do so in response to the current crises at the park is a waste of a great opportunity.

Ft. Getty will soon require considerable investment. It warrants the attention of people dedicated to its future, whether a group created by the Town Council or simply by those of us who care about it – the “Friends of Ft. Getty.”

We should enlist other resources, too. Talented designers live in Jamestown – why not create a design competition and open up the discussion to new perspectives? At the very least, let’s get a sense of what islanders think.

The heads of Jamestown’s Democratic and Republican Town Committees once brought folks together to build the pavilion at Ft. Getty, a place for all kinds of celebrations. Ft. Getty needs another infusion of that kind of community spirit.

The writer is a former member of the Jamestown Town Council.

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