2010-12-30 / Front Page

So long, 2010

It was a year of flooded basements, tight budgets, school decisions and more
By Tim Riel

The Year in Pictures 
Jamestown’s volunteer firefighters were called to pump out morethan 200 island basements that were flooded after more than twodays of non-stop rain in March. Photo by Jeff McDonough The Year in Pictures Jamestown’s volunteer firefighters were called to pump out morethan 200 island basements that were flooded after more than twodays of non-stop rain in March. Photo by Jeff McDonough This is the final issue of the Jamestown Press for the year of 2010. We traditionally take a look back at the top stories of the year. It was an event-filled 12 months.

March rains produce record water levels

The storm that pummeled Jamestown on Monday and Tuesday, March 29-30, was one for the record books. Flooding caused road closures and school closings, while basements from Beavertail to North Bay View Drive were knee-high in water.

Eight inches of rain, combined with already-saturated soil and 40 mph winds, had public safety workers and volunteers in overdrive from 2 a.m. on Monday, when the first call came in, until Wednesday morning, when North Main Road was finally opened again.

“I’ve worked here for 21 years and this is the most water I’ve ever seen,” said Douglas Ouellette, the superintendent of the town’s wastewater treatment plant. “This is the biggest storm I’ve ever had to deal with.”

Ouellette said that the plant usually treats 350,000 gallons of water per day, but was treating 2.8 million gallons per day following the storm.

Jim Bryer, the chief of the Jamestown Fire Department, said that about 30 volunteer firefighters responded to more than 200 calls about basement flooding. He said the water in some basements was as high as six feet; he also witnessed furnaces completely emerged and water pouring out of a bulkhead.

“I’ve never seen anything worse than this,” Bryer said. “Even during the hurricanes. We’ve had to pump out cellars before, but not in this number.”

Scott Sherman, owner of Jamestown Hardware, said that his store had never been busier. “We sold every sump pump we had and the phone is ringing off the wall,” Sherman said. “I could easily sell 500 pumps if I could get them.”

Tensions run high at Town Financial Meeting

In easily the most chaotic meeting of the year, 700 islanders packed into the Lawn Avenue School gymnasium and ultimately voted to pass an $8.6 million municipal budget and the $12.3 million school budget recommended by the Town Council.

There were so many residents in attendance at the meeting that if any more had shown up, it would have had to be postponed because of firesafety issues.

Lewis Kitts, the director of buildings and maintenance, and his staff had to bring over 400 chairs from the Melrose School, said canvassing clerk Karen Montoya. “They had to break down the bleachers. They had to buy additional microphones. They had to roll out the floor covering. They had to install the special access elevator at the edge of the stage and they had to provide access to the stage by dismantling the music classroom, which is where the stage actually is. The preparation that went into this meeting was an enormous project.”

The gym was so packed, that officials decided to change from a standing vote – where voters are asked to stand, section by section, if they support a motion – to a paper vote.

“It was crucial that we went to a paper ballot to keep that vote clean,” Montoya said. “I observed non-registered voters trying to vote, and I observed people moving from section to section to vote again. I couldn’t have allowed that vote to stand.”

A property-tax increase was also passed at the meeting: it was raised $1 per $1,000 of assessed property value, thereby increasing the property tax from $8.11 per $1,000 to $9.11 per $1,000.

The Jamestown Taxpayers’ Association offered several budget amendments, all of which failed.

DEM approves closure of landfill

A decade-long plan to close the landfill on North Main Road was fi- nally approved in September by the state Department of Environmental Management. Town Administrator Bruce Keiser received a letter from the DEM signing off on the closure plan, and the initial phase could begin as early as the summer of 2011, under the management of GZA GeoEnviromental, Inc.

“All areas of the landfill directly over buried waste will be covered with at least two feet of soil, including six inches of loam. The loam will support the growth of vegetation, whose roots will help trap rainwater that would otherwise percolate into the wastes below,” the Press reported.

Keiser said that the cost of the operation would come from a municipal bond. The $450,000 bond would need to be approved at the next Financial Town Meeting and the debt service for the 20-year bond could be as high as $35,000 per year, depending on the interest rate.

The plan called for some areas of the cap to be graded to help defl ect rainwater. Also, storm-water management systems would need to be installed because of state regulations and paved areas lying over buried waste would be subject to capping requirements as well.

Police chief retires, hired next day

At a special Town Council meeting held on Wednesday, June 30, Police Chief Thomas Tighe retired after more than four decades of service.

On Thursday, he was rehired.

Following an executive session held to discuss contract negotiations with the police union, Tighe announced his retirement. The Council voted unanimously to accept. “The next morning, we offered the chief a one-year contract for $37,000 if he would stay on and still be allowed to retire,” Keiser said. “He accepted the terms, and will continue fulfilling his duties as before.”

Tighe said that the retirement was not expected and he planned to stay on the force for one more year, because if he retired, the town would be without a chief until it was able to find one. But he didn’t want to roll the dice with his pension on the line.

“After 43 years of service, I didn’t want to take a chance on losing what I worked for,” Tighe said.

“If he waited for the conclusion of contract negotiations between the town and the police union, there could be changes that would affect officers’ retirement packages,” the Press reported. “Tighe’s employment contract with the town is based on the town labor agreement with the police union”

Just before Tighe’s short-lived retirement, Lieutenant Bill Donovan and Detective Frank Watson retired within weeks of each other for the same reason. With two senior officers already gone, a third would have put the police department understaffed.

“In moving forward with a relatively young department, savings will be realized in benefits associated with long-term service,” Keiser said. “Lower longevity pay, reduced staffing and the difference between the chief’s yearly salary and the $37,000 yearly contract will cut departmental payroll by more than $100,000 per year.”

Wineberg, Brennan resign from committee

“I cannot serve a council majority that shows such poor financial, environmental and political judgment,” one letter said.

“I do not support the current Town Council’s decision to prevent the voters of Jamestown from deciding on the benefits of installing a wind turbine at Fort Getty,” another letter said.

Those are excerpts from separate letters written by Don Wineberg and William Brennan, respectively, to the Wind Energy Committee in March. The members abruptly stepped down from their posts.

Wineberg not only resigned from his position as chair of the Wind Energy Committee, but quit his position with the Jamestown Zoning Board of Review.

The resignations stemmed from disagreements between the committee and the Council on the turbine issue – Wineberg and Brennan, on behalf of the wind committee, recommended that the Council apply for federal stimulus funds for two turbines on Conanicut Island, one at Fort Getty and one at Taylor Point.

Instead, the Council voted to apply for $750,000 in federal stimulus funds to site just the Taylor Point turbine. Bickering ensued.

“The council vote made it clear that this council does not support a second turbine,” Wineberg said. “The vote of one person on the Town Council has the power to make that decision for the town.”

Brennan said that the vote should be presented at a Financial Town Meeting, and residents should decide on the fate of the turbines. “If the town’s people want it, great,” he said. “If not, OK. I’m good with that.”

Town Council member Robert Bowen said he found the resignations “unfortunate.” Council President Michael Schnack said, “I don’t think what they did was very constructive.”

“I’m all about letting Jamestowners decide what should happen at Fort Getty,” Wineberg said. “What I can’t live with is one person deciding that for everybody else.”

“Somebody’s always going to be angry,” he said. “But the Council has to make decisions. If people aren’t happy with those decisions, then next election, run for Council.”

Town eliminates full-time ACO position

In one of the more passionate debates during the Financial Town Meeting, the position of a full-time animal control officer on the island was eliminated from the town’s budget by a 35-vote margin: 246- 211.

“Presumably, every islander who supported a restoration of the funding necessary for a full-time animal control officer attended the meeting,” the Press reported. The ACO contingent fell short of the majority vote, and the position – with its $48,088 salary – was reduced to a part-time job, which the Council recommended.

The decision to keep an ACO on the town payroll was so hotly debated that Canvassing Clerk Karen Montoya said she wanted to hold that specific vote by paper ballot, as opposed to a standing vote or hand vote, to preserve anonymity.

The ACO position was finally eliminated. So what should residents do in the case of an animal emergency?

“Services have not been reduced in any way,” Police Chief Thomas Tighe said. “The ACO from North Kingstown will respond to most calls. Some we can handle ourselves. The Department of Environmental Management will handle any avian needs. Just call us, and the appropriate action will be taken.”

North Kingstown vs. Narragansett

With the North Kingstown- Jamestown contract due to expire in 2012, Narragansett asked the Jamestown School Committee to take another look at the island’s high school of record to see if Jamestown would be better off turning their teenagers into Mariners, opposed to Skippers.

“I really believe Narragansett High School is the best fit for Jamestown students,” Narragansett Superintendent of Schools Kathy Sipala said. “We would not be using tuition just to pay teachers.”

She said that low class sizes at Narragansett High School would allow the district to simply expand sections rather than hire new teachers. “We would like to expand our foreign language department,” Sipala said. “We’d also like to add more advanced placement courses. Right now, we offer AP physics, calculus, English, psychology and U.S. history. We also offer early enrollment program in Italian and Spanish. Next year, we will add EEP chemistry.”

North Kingstown Principal Garry Foley argued if it wasn’t broken, don’t fix it.

“The Jamestown kids fit in very well here,” he said. “They are viable, contributing members of our student body. They’re actively involved in lots of pursuits. They are noted not only for their academics, but also for their extra-curricular activities. They are noted for their art, their music and their theatrical talent. In years past, we’ve had both the salutatorian and the valedictorian from Jamestown. I think they’ve added a lot to our school over the years.”

In a JamestownPress.com poll, 67 percent (340 of 509 votes) voted that North Kingstown should remain the island’s school of record.

Increase in rates for mooring, beach permits

The Jamestown Harbor Management Commission waited until the last meeting of the year to make its most significant decision. In December the commission unanimously approved “across-the-board” rate increases of approximately 24 percent for mooring holders, outhauls and beach permits.

Commissioner Andrew Kallfelz said the increase was necessary for generating revenue to meet the operational demands of the harbor commission.

Kallfelz said that the commercial operator’s leaseholder agreements were in place for 10 years and the monies received from the agreements did not come close to providing adequate funding for harbor operations and maintenance. He also pointed out that the Jamestown mooring rates were well below the fees charged by surrounding communities. He said “generating revenue to fund harbor interests was crucial, and that a mooring rate increase was certainly justified,” the Press reported.

Although the initial motion simply called for a 25-percent increase in mooring fees, Commissioner Larry Eichler said that the increase to those holders alone wouldn’t be fair. In the amended motion, outhaul and beach permit fees were also increased, taking some of the burden off of the mooring holders.

The battle again Hess and Weaver’s Cove

As far as acronyms go, LNG dominated the headlines in the Jamestown Press. Weaver’s Cove, owned by the Hess Corporation, proposed building a liquefied natural gas terminal on Mount Hope Bay. Jamestown responded with a town-appointed LNG Threat Committee to oppose the proposed LNG tankers traversing Narrangasett Bay.

In early November, Jamestown hosted a Congress of Councils at the recreation center where, as committee Chair Dan Wright said, the goal was to “create an environment in which a strategic plan can be developed.”

Town council representatives from Warren, Kickemuit, Little Compton, Jamestown, Fall River, Newport, Middletown, North Kingstown and Portsmouth attended the meeting. Also present were Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Attorney General Patrick Lynch, Rep. Deb Ruggerio, Governor-elect Lincoln Chafee and Frank Caprio.

Whitehouse called the proposed 4.2 miles of cryogenic pipeline “untested technology.” He also said that it would put “Narragansett Bay, the heart of Rhode Island,” at risk.

Although the LNG proposal has seen a lot of opposition, Lynch said, “I fear that we have a long, long way to go.”

The Press reported that “43 acres of seabed would be excavated at the bottom of the bay to create a turning basin, and an additional 40 acres of the Bay would be used for a threestory docking facility.”

Turbine talk keeps heads spinning

A proposed wind turbine in Jamestown prompted more islandwide debate than any other issue. As proof, a search of “turbine” on JamestownPress.com yield 10 pages (with 10 items on each page) of items in 2010 alone. For a newspaper that produces 52 issues a year, that is a lot of stories, letters and editorials.

This isn’t the first year where the turbine has made news in Jamestown, but it was certainly the year where it came to the forefront. In January, the Wind Energy Committee recommended two 1.65-megawatt turbines be built on Conanicut Island – one at Fort Getty and one at Taylor Point. Less than a month later, the Town Council decided that it would back a one-turbine plan, nixing the Fort Getty proposal and deciding that Jamestown should be a one-turbine town. The Council then put in a grant application for $750,000 in federal funds to help construct the $6.5 million machine.

The one-turbine decision spurred resignations from two members of the Wind Energy Committee in March. The Council received word in July that the full amount of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant requested from the federal government was awarded to help build the turbine at Taylor Point. The funding would be put to a vote as a referendum on the ballots of the Nov. 2 General Election.

In September, the Federal Aviation Administration informed Town Administrator Bruce Keiser that the FAA would deny clearance to build a turbine at Taylor Point because it would interfere with aircraft approaching the National Guard airfi eld at Quonset Point.

The Council tried to get the bond referendum concerning the wind turbine removed from the electionballot. Failing, the Council urged island residents to vote against the bond. Question 5 on the ballot was passed by a mere 14 votes – 1,491 to 1,477 (50.2 percent majority).

In December, the Town Council rejected funding for two studies necessary to advance the proposed wind turbine at Taylor Point.

The wind turbine may return to the news in 2011 when it is expected that the Town Council will again take up the issue.

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