2011-12-29 / Front Page

Farewell, 2011

This year has been eventful for islanders, who saw the collapse of a pavilion and a barge, and also welcomed a new Narragansett Avenue, police chief and restaurant
BY TIM RIEL

Sunday marks the beginning of a new year, and although we are excited to see what’s in store for us in 2012, here at the Press we also like to look back on the year that we are leaving behind. We also can’t forget about the people who were staples in the Jamestown community for many years, and decided to hang it up in 2011.

Among them was Stephen Goslee, the former public works director who worked with the department for 31 years; Chris Powell, who chaired the Conservation Commission for 26 years; Thomas Tighe, who was with the police force for 44 years and served as chief since 1992; Steve Sherman, who founded Jamestown Hardware more than 20 years ago; and Judy Bell, who held the post of library director for 24 years.

But retirements are far from the only news that affected the island this year. Here are 10 of the biggest stories that impacted Jamestowners in 2011, in chronological order.

Pavilion collapses

Following a brutal snow-riddled January, an early February storm was the straw that broke the camel’s back – or, more precisely, the snow that broke the pavilion in half.

On Feb. 2, the Lt. Col. John C. Rembijas Memorial Pavilion at Fort Getty collapsed under the weight of snow and ice, rendering it completely useless. Within weeks, all that remained at the spot where the pavilion stood for 32 years was a blank slate of concrete.

The pavilion – which was painted less than a year before the collapse – was a source of revenue for the town. It was rented out for wedding receptions and other private events during the summer, bringing in about $10,000 each season. At the time of the collapse, 20 reservations for weekend events had already been booked. Not being able to build a new one by the start of the season, the town decided to rent a temporary tent to get through the summer.

Passionate discussions about what type of amenities the new pavilion should have and where it should be built ensued. Residents let the Town Council know of their visions for the new structure. Should the new pavilion have bathrooms or an area to prepare food? Should it be built on the same slab of concrete, or should it be relocated on a hill to add elevation and protect against flooding?

The insurance company still hasn’t agreed on a settlement with the town on how much it would pay out for the damages.

Work begins downtown

After 14 years in the making, construction finally began in March on a project that carried with it an estimated cost of $640,000. The Downtown Improvement Project was overseen by Town Engineer Mike Gray – work crews first removed and replaced curbing, and then they demolished the old sidewalks, built forms and poured concrete for the new ones.

The project began at East Ferry, and construction crews moved west on Narragansett Avenue, working on one side of the street and then the other. The work was done in 300-foot increments. During the spring, construction work hampered parking in the village, and made downtown shopping a little more hectic than usual. Most work stopped for the summer so that businesses wouldn’t lose vacation clientele, and then in the fall the final touches were made – trees were planted, trash cans and benches were installed, and new sidewalks were created.

A new restaurant

In February, Trish Masso revealed that she would close her restaurant, Tricia’s Troppi Grill on Narragansett Avenue. The reasons for the closure was because rent, insurance and utilities were becoming increasingly expensive, and also that the building’s owner didn’t want to give her a lease longer than six months in an effort to sell the building.

Just about a month later it was announced that a group of investors – led by Narragansett Café owners John Recca and Cathy Squires – purchased the building and were going to open an upscale restaurant at its location.

The restaurant – Jamestown Fish – opened up just last week. One of the partners, along with the Reccas, is Matthew MacCartney, who will serve as the executive chef. MacCartney arrived in Jamestown with an impressive resume. The award-winning chef worked in world-class restaurants including Cibréo in Italy, Pasta Nostra in Connecticut, and Colicchio & Sons in New York City.

MacCartney said that the food at Jamestown Fish would be “European inspired American” and “casually elegant,” with a menu that changes with the seasons. The partners would like to see Fish known for its focus on local ingredients and first-rate spirits. “We want to be know for our wines,” MacCartney said.

Hess withdraws proposal

The ongoing threat of a liquefi ed natural gas terminal that Weaver’s Cove planned on building in Mount Hope Bay came to a surprising end in June. The news came from Gordon Shearer – the CEO of Hess LNG, the company that owned Weaver’s Cove – who wrote a press release saying that the company would withdraw applications with state and federal agencies.

Publicly Shearer cited “unfavorable economics for liquefied natural gas in the New England region” as the reason that Hess took the proposal off the table. “The significant increase in natural gas production from shale resources in North America resulting in lower prices as well as the growth in demand for LNG in the rest of the world make it unlikely the company can secure supplies of LNG on economic terms attractive enough to ensure the sustained profitability of the project,” he said.

Activists against the project, which included a Jamestown committee created for the singular reason to combat the proposal, said that their protesting had some infl uence in the company’s decision.

“The economics have been gradually skewing against this project,” Dan Wright said, who chaired the town’s anti-LNG panel. “However, I disagree that local opinion had nothing to do with it. The project would have been built already if not for the delays that were caused by the opposition.”

Town merges fire, EMS

In what Town Administrator Bruce Keiser called the most signifi cant change in his six years as Jamestown’s top official, the Town Council voted on June 20 to merge the Fire Department and Jamestown Emergency Medical Services. The change was put into effect on July 1.

“The merger is intended to address concerns about friction in the relationship between JEMS and the Fire Department, and subpar performance in emergency response,” the Press reported at the time. “The benefits of blending the operations, Keiser said, include improved personnel management and deployment, improved response, increased financial accountability for expenditures, more intensive and systematic training, and enhanced revenues from insurance reimbursements.”

Following the merger, Deputy Fire Chief Howie Tighe was put in charge of directing the consolidated department, while Janine Tatazel, who was the commander of JEMS, would become captain of the company.

New police chief hired

During a special meeting on June 27, Edward Mello, who served as police chief in Westerly since 2004, was unanimously voted to the top law enforcement post by the Town Council.

Mello, 43, was taking over for Thomas Tighe, who has held the position since 1992. The town chose from about 45 candidates, which didn’t include Lt. Angela Deneault, who was named interim chief while Mello tied up lose ends in Westerly. With Deneault’s temporary promotion, she became Rhode Island’s first female police chief. Mello was officially sworn in on Sept. 19.

Mello had served as a volunteer EMT for 20 years and as the chief financial officer for the Westerly Ambulance Corps. He led a fundraiser that helped construct a $2.1 million ambulance facility. Mello was hired because of his administrative experience, said Keiser, which included managing a $4.5 million operating budget. Mello was also instrumental in overseeing construction of the $12 million Westerly Police Station.

Irene hits the island

When Hurricane Irene hit the Jamestown coast on Aug. 28, it had been downgraded to a tropical storm. “By the time Irene reached Narragansett Bay, it had fallen just weak of the 74 mph needed to be classified as a Category 1 hurricane,” the Press reported at the time. “Even so, islanders were still without electricity during the entire storm, which began early Sunday morning. Winds gusted upwards of 60 mph accompanied by rain. By late Sunday afternoon, the rain had subsided, but winds continued through the night.”

Although the storm was much weaker than expected, the town still was in overdrive preparing for it. Acting Police Chief Deneault, who lives in Tiverton, packed a bag and spent the weekend on the island so that she could be available in case of emergency. She said she had assumed the bridge would be closed.

The biggest nuisance that the storm brought was the loss of power and the cleanup afterwards. Aside from those minor inconveniences, the island was free from any real tragedy.

David Swain freed

David Swain, the former Jamestown Town Council member who owned a local dive shop, was freed from a Tortola prison on Sept. 29 after a panel of three appeals court judges ordered Swain released after reporting that it found unacceptable the instructions that were read to the jury by the judge in the 2009 trial.

Swain was convicted of drowning his second wife, Shelley Arden Tyre, in 1999 while the couple was scuba diving on vacation in the British Virgin Islands. A jury found him guilty of murder in 2009 and he was ordered to serve 25 years. But the appeals court ruled that the judge’s conduct was detrimental to Swain, and it also said that it wouldn’t pursue the matter any further.

“The appeals panel did not order a new trial, expressing its concern about the length of time that had passed since Tyre’s death and said it would be difficult to recall defense witnesses,” the Press reported at the time.

Swain has continually denied killing his wife and said that her drowning was an accident.

Barge sinks in bay

A construction barge that had more than 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel aboard it sank under the Newport Pell Bridge following a Halloween nor’easter. United States Coast Guard divers learned that the 120-foot barge was going to be more difficult to raise than expected, seeing how it was lying upside down on the bottom of the bay 108 feet below the surface, partially submerged in mud.

In order to retrieve the barge, the unified command – the Coast Guard, the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority, Save the Bay, the state Department of Environmental Management and Abhe & Svoboda, the company that was leasing the barge – looked to Donjon Marine for assistance. Donjon Marine sent a barge named Chesapeake 1000 on a 30-hour trip from Newark Bay to Narragansett Bay, with a 265-foot crane aboard it. The purpose of the crane was to raise the 350-ton barge from the bay floor, which it successfully did earlier this month.

The main concern with the barge’s sinking was the fuel aboard. Only a minor sheen was seen following the collapse, and divers successfully made sure that no other oil leaked out during the raising of the barge.

Plunge finds new home

For 35 years, Special Olympics Rhode Island had organized the New Year’s Day Penguin Plunge at Mackerel Cove. Citing insurance risks, the organization decided to move to Roger Wheeler State Beach in Narragansett.

“They let me know that if it’s known as a Special Olympics Rhode Island event, we’re liable for any injury at that cove,” said Special Olympics CEO Dennis DeJesus. “We just could not put the organization in jeopardy anymore.”

In 2011, more than 2,500 people were at the beach on New Year’s Day, yet only 135 were officially registered for it. Close to 500 people entered the bay that day, DeJesus said.

“For the Mackerel Cove event, Special Olympics created a chute in the center of the beach to funnel people into the water,” the Press reported at the time. “Problems arose when scores of people entered the water to the left or right of the chute, giving the organizers no ability to control the event.”

Although the Special Olympics plunge would no longer be held on the island, a group led by Bob Baily, who organizes the town’s Fourth of July fireworks, decided to create another New Year’s Day event. The Jamestown 1st Day Plunge was approved by the Town Council as an alcohol-free event, and money raised for the event wouldn’t benefit the Special Olympics, but other nonprofit groups that have a connection to the island. The new tradition begins Sunday at noon at East Ferry.

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