2011-12-08 / News

Town poised to select turbine consultant, mulls over pavilion options


In its last regular meeting of 2011, the Town Council set the stage for a number of near-term decisions, a number of which will reach a vote as early as next week, when the councilors hold a special meeting on the future uses of Fort Getty.

The council met on Dec. 5. The topics addressed by the councilors included the town solicitation for a wind turbine consultant, negotiations on the insurance reimbursement for the Rembijas pavilion, ongoing violations at the Procaccianti property, a donation requested by the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association, a replacement for the Penguin Plunge, and RV campground rules at Fort Getty.

Town Administrator Bruce Keiser told the council that there have been five responses to the solicitation for a turbine consultant, and that all five respondents will be interviewed this week. Keiser plans to recommend a consultant at the special meeting on Monday, Dec. 12.

The consultant will be tasked with financial performance modeling; proposing for National Grid review an interconnection between a Taylor Point turbine and the North Road feeder lines; modeling the benefits of municipal turbine ownership and those of a public/ private partnership; and preparing a request for proposals to build the turbine if the council decides to construct one.

“All five of the consultants are very well qualified,” Keiser said, adding that all of them have indicated that they could launch the project in time to take advantage of state grants which would have to be spent by March 31.

Although the council had hoped that the drawn-out negotiations on an insurance reimbursement for the Rembijas pavilion replacement would be finished by now, Keiser said that Town Engineer and Public Works Director Mike Gray is still working with the structural engineer representing the Interlocal Trust, whose engineer still believes that the pavilion doesn’t need to be built to a higher structural standard than the original structure.

The difference between the two estimates amounts to $100,000 worth of materials. Councilor Bill Murphy asked if Interlocal Trust was aware that the original columns “were just [sections of] telephone poles sunk into the ground without any footers.” Keiser said they are aware of the original engineering and that, at this point, it’s a case of “one engineer’s opinion stacked up against another’s.”

In contrast to the proposed replacement pavilion, the restoration initiative at the Beavertail Lighthouse has never raised any controversy; and the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association has been trying to raise money in the midst of a difficult economy. During this week’s meeting, Keiser presented on behalf of the BLMA its request for the second allocation of town support for the restoration.

In June 2010, the council agreed to donate $10,000 from the town’s contingency fund and, if feasible, an additional $15,000 the following year. Keiser said that “the large demands placed on the emergencies and incidentals account during the previous fiscal year were not typical of our annual budget expenditure needs, and I do not expect that [fiscal year 2011-12] will require commitments of the same magnitude.” Consequently, Keiser recommended the allocation of $15,000 from the account to help the BLMA, and the council approved a motion to do so.

On Monday, the council will be asked to consider a very different request: granting a permit for a replacement Penguin Plunge. The plunge had been held at Mackerel Cove every New Year’s Day for the past 35 years, but its sponsor – the Special Olympics – decided to move the popular event to Narragansett because of insurance issues raised by the growing number of participants.

In a presentation to the council, resident Bob Bailey proposed to recreate the event – the First Day Penguin Plunge – at a different location: East Ferry. Bailey proposed a “scaled down” version of the swimming, but also proposed an expansion of the activities.

“The event wouldn’t be just 15 minutes [of people jumping into the bay]. We’d like to have the rec center open for the kids and make the whole event alcohol free,” Bailey said, pointing out that East Ferry would be a much more public and accessible venue than Mackerel Cove.

To ensure that people seeking to participate in the original plunge don’t mistakenly attend the new one, the Special Olympics – at the request of Police Chief Ed Mello – is publicizing its event in Narragansett. Because the propsed plunge would be much less packed than the Mackerel Cove event, Mello “feels he could assign four officers [to handle security] instead of the six the department would otherwise send to Mackerel Cove,” Keiser said.

In another, albeit very different, discussion involving enforcement, the council discussed the possibility of revising the RV campground rules at Fort Getty. The issue came up at the previous council meeting, when the councilors acknowledged, among other concerns, the problem of substandard decks built by the campers.

Keiser noted that, starting next year, the RV campers will be asked to sign waivers absolving the town from any liability for injuries sustained on their decks. “It’s not just a liability issue,” Keiser added. “It’s aesthetics, because some of those decks leave something to be desired. So, we need standards.”

Councilor Ellen Winsor noted an additional issue with the decks. She pointed out that the Conservation Commission is concerned about the possibility that some of the lumber brought into the campground could be infested with invasive pests, such as emerald ash borers or Asian long-horned beetles. But the council doesn’t seem inclined to address that issue at this point.

In fact, with the possible exception of the substandard decks, the council feels that campground issues such as improper parking are already addressed by the rec department’s rules, and that enforcement – not rule revisions – should resolve the problems.

In other business, the council:

• Accepted a Conservation Commission letter asking the council to throw its weight behind its efforts to force the start of restoration work at the Procaccianti Group property, which, the commission has long alleged, has violated state wetlands regulations. The council agreed to put the request on its agenda for Monday’s meeting.

• Appointed Laura Yentsch to serve on the Library Board of Trustees. Winsor and other councilors pointed out that the choice was a difficult one because there were five qualified candidates vying for the appointment. But there will be another slot opening up in a year, Winsor pointed out.

• Appointed Jeff Bush to serve as an alternate on the Town Buildings and Facilities Committee; and Judy Bell to serve as the third alternate on the Zoning Board of Review.

• Adopted with a handful of minor edits the Comprehensive Harbor Management Plan.

• Raised the annual $350 boatstorage fee at Fort Getty (for campers as well as non-campers) to $450.

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