2011-12-29 / News

Harbor Commission spends 2011 revising important documents

BY MARGO SULLIVAN

The waterfront continued to be a hub of activity and controversy in 2011.

In August, the harbor easily weathered the first hurricane since 2005 to make landfall on the East Coast. Good luck and planning made the difference, town officials said. Although the storm grabbed headlines over the last August weekend, Irene had actually weakened to a tropical storm by the time it reached New England. Some residents’ boats washed up on land, but overall, the infrastructure damage was minor and confi ned to the town’s pier, which lost a few planks, Sam Paterson, the harbormaster, said at the time.

“We were very well prepared for the storm that was coming,” he said. “It could have been much, much worse. We got a small blow but nothing really severe.”

Paterson added, “We had a few boats that did go aground. For the number of boats that were left in the water, I think it was a small percentage.”

Overall, Irene did not leave much of an impression, Paterson said.

In fact, the “big thing” to hit Jamestown in 2011, said Harbor Commission Chairman Michael de Angeli, was a 24-page document: the revised Jamestown Harbor Management Ordinance. The update to the ordinance and the Comprehensive Harbor Management Plan took more than three years to hammer out and represented the panel’s top achievement for the year, he said.

The success didn’t happen without controversy, however. Trouble flared up in February when a public hearing was held to review the first draft of the new document. Marina owners, mooring holders and town officials packed the council chambers and raised so many objections and questions about the new ordinance the councilors opted to delay a vote on the package. At the time Town Councilor Mike White called the divisions among all the parties “overwhelming,” and Councilor Bill Murphy said too many questions remained to be answered before the council could adopt the new ordinance.

Ultimately, the harbor commissioners prevailed in one matter – their decision to allow moorings to be inherited after the holder’s death. That continued a Jamestown custom but is not a practice followed in other communities.

The harbor commissioners and conservation commissioners ironed out changes to special protections for environmentally sensitive waters, delineated as conservation zones. Maureen Coleman, conservation commissioner and then liaison to the Harbor Commission, said her panel should be involved in any changes to the definition of conservation zones. Previously, boats were not allowed to anchor overnight in conservation zones, but in the new ordinance, boaters cannot drop anchor at all in the conservation waters. Moorings also are not allowed in the conservation zones, but de Angeli said the extent of conservation zones had been “cut back.”

But the commissioners and the councilors locked horns over mooring fees. The Harbor Commission, de Angeli explained, is the only town board with its own separate budget. In past years, 90 percent of the mooring fees and other fees the harbor clerk collected went to the harbor enterprise fund to be used to finance projects, typically, for harbor programs, infrastructure and repairs. The other 10 percent went into the town harbor waterfront facilities capital account, but the councilors have changed the arrangement – per the new ordinance – to allow the Town Council to take 50 percent, not 10 percent, away from the harbor enterprise fund and use the money without restrictions for any municipal project it deems necessary.

The Town Council finally adopted the new ordinance in November and then accepted the revised Comprehensive Harbor Management Plan.

In retrospect, de Angeli said, the harbor commissioners had spent “a lot of time” debating issues that residents raised but which the Town Council “didn’t even discuss,” such as the establishment of new mooring fields. Some residents opposed the new fields for fear more traffic would come into their neighborhoods, he said.

Also in February, the last of the old Jamestown Bridge finally disappeared when the General Assembly – due to the costs – abandoned its original intention to convert the last 1,600-foot section to a fishing pier and instead hired a Middletown construction company to tear it down.

In March, the Town Council approved the Harbor Commission’s budget. Mooring fees shot up 24 percent to $4.15-per-foot for resi- dents and $8.30-per-foot for nonresidents and commercial users. Fees for outhauls and beach permits went up 5 percent.

Over the summer, Hess dropped its unpopular plan to establish a liquefied natural gas terminal at Weaver’s Cove in Mount Hope Bay. That ended the risk from accident or terrorism against supertankers ferrying LNG through the harbor. Islanders had formed two committees to fight the company, but ultimately, Hess LNG President Gordon Shearer said economics guided the company’s decision, specifically, “unfavorable economics for liquefied natural gas in the New England region.”

In October, a barge, storing equipment and supplies for cleaning and painting the Newport Bridge, sank in a nor’easter. Between 2,200 and 2,400 gallons of diesel fuel went down with the barge, according to Gail Svoboda, president of Abhe & Svoboda, the company that received the contract to repair and repaint the Newport Bridge. Abhe & Svoboda leased the barge to store equipment.

He estimated “a gallon or two” had leaked out into Narragansett Bay but had since been “vacuumed up.”

The barge finally came up in December when a crane lifted it out of the water.

The harbor commissioners made progress whittling down the mooring waiting list, but the list is still 200 names long. The panel is enforcing the rules and people who did not use the moorings were to receive notice they are required to use the moorings for at least 14 days annually or risk eventually having to surrender them. About 45 people did not use the moorings over the summer.

Over the year, the commissioners heard numerous complaints about the rebuilt boat ramp at Fort Getty. Paterson said the water is shallow but is functional, provided boaters have the proper trailer. He also said the ramp is seeing a lot of use.

“I went over there one Saturday and I counted 26 boat trailers from people using that ramp,” he said.

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