The odds and ends of a year full of anniversaries, controversies
In last week’s edition of the Jamestown Press, we included year-in-review stories for most of the town’s commissions and committees, as well as a feature article on what we considered to be the top 10 Jamestown-related stories of 2011. (All the articles can be accessed by searching the archives on JamestownPress.com.) But even with an entire newspaper devoted to a look back at last year, there were plenty of important happenings that didn’t make it to print in the Dec. 29 issue – which we will take a look at this week.
From year to year it is common for changes in personnel and leadership to transpire – 2011 was no different. On April 28, the Town Council accepted a letter of resignation from School Committee member Dana Long. Long expressed increased travel time as her reason for stepping down.
“We are sad to see her go,” said School Committee Chairwoman Cathy Kaiser at the time. “She was a very valuable member of the committee who was hard working, did her homework and offered great insight.”
Sav Rebecchi filled the seat that was vacated by Long. Rebbechi, the president of the Jamestown Record and a former member of the Town Charter Review Committee, finished fourth in the 2009 election for three open School Committee seats. According to the Town Charter, if a member leaves the panel before his or her term is up, the next highest finisher at the most recent election is offered the vacated seat. That candidate was Rebecchi, who had 707 votes. Long was third with 979.
There was another surprise resignation later in the year, but this time it was marred by controversy. In a letter dated Aug. 17 and addressed to the Housing Authority’s board of commissioners, Ron Du- Ponte submitted his letter of resignation because of unrest between himself and Housing Authority Chairman Ernest Anthony.
“Over the past eight months,” wrote DuPonte, “it has been increasingly difficult to carry out my responsibilities as the executive director due to the undue influence of a member of this board who has essentially made me ineffective in my role as executive director and unable to fairly and effectively supervise a staff member who is a family member or to effectively carry out my day-to-day duties of managing this Housing Authority.”
The family member DuPonte was referring to was Brian Anthony, who is in charge of maintenance for the Housing Authority, and also Ernest Anthony’s son.
Ernest Anthony said at the time that he didn’t feel there was any bad blood between himself and DuPonte. “That’s his opinion, not mine,” he said. “We want him to stay on as executive director. I think Ron did a good job and we asked numerous times that he reconsider, and he chose not to.”
Richard Leco was named interim director of the Housing Authority on Oct. 13. The authority is still searching for a full-time director.
Earlier in the year, Donna Fogarty took over for Judy Bell, the long-time director of the Jamestown Philomenian Library who decided to retire in 2011. Before taking the reigns in Jamestown, Fogarty worked at the South Kingstown Public Library, where she had been circulation supervisor for a decade.
“The library gets great support in this community,” Fogarty said at the time. “It’s a dream job.”
Jamestowners also saluted a new police chief this year – Edward Mello – and welcomed back two island traditions: Jamestown Day and the Jamestown Chamber of Commerce Business Expo.
Jamestown Day was an event that had origins traced back to the late 19th century, according to Rosemary Enright of the Jamestown Historical Society. Unlike later Jamestown Days, that event was held downtown and featured a parade and fireworks. The more modern Jamestown Day – which was annually held at Fort Getty – began in 1968. The family-friendly event was filled with activities for people of all ages. Nobody could say why is pestered out, but in its heyday it would draw as many as 5,000 people to the park.
Jamestown Day was then forgotten, but 2011 marked the second year of its revival. Over the last two years the Friends of Jamestown Youth organized the event, which included bands, pizza, a rock wall, face painting and other entertainment for the entire family.
The Business Expo, which took place in early November, was an annual event that was held until 2007 by the Jamestown Chamber of Commerce. The purpose was to showcase island businesses and promote buying locally. Current members of the chamber said they didn’t know why the expo went on a four-year hiatus. “It hasn’t run for a few years, and I don’t really know why,” said member Charlie Petit at the time. “The chamber should really be doing this to support its members.”
The 21 businesses all set up tables at the Jamestown Recreation Center, and four restaurants – Narragansett Café, Slice of Heaven, Trattoria Simpatico and Chopmist Charlie’s – were on hand to serve complimentary chowder.
2011 was also a big year for anniversaries. On Sept. 24, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church celebrated its 175th anniversary on the island. The history of the church dates back to the 1700s, but it wasn’t until a group of Anglicans came together in 1836 to establish it as Episcopalian.
St. Matthew’s held a celebratory service to commemorate the anniversary, and also had a special banner made that was displayed in front of the church. That same banner was proudly carried by about 60 church members as they marched in the Memorial Day Parade, and it was also used as the sail on the church’s entry to the Fools’ Rules Regatta.
The Jamestown Rotary Club and the Jamestown Community Piano Association also reached landmarked anniversaries this year. In March, the Rotary Club – which has 18 members, including state Rep. Deb Ruggiero – turned 70 years old. Its motto is “service above self.”
“The Rotary Club is about giving back to the community,” President Brenda Calkins said at the time. “There are leaders in busi- ness and other professions that are really civic minded and realize that the best way to connect to and to honor the community is to give back.”
As for the JCPA, 2011 marked its 10-year anniversary. A special concert was held earlier this year at St. Matthew’s to commemorate the occasion. The group began fundraising in 1999 to purchase a piano for the community, and after two years, the group had raised $28,000. They used the money to purchase a 7-foot Schimmel grand piano, and in November 2001, the group held its first concert. Since then more than 25 concerts have been presented.
Banking in Jamestown became a one-man show in 2011. In early January, Bank of America announced that it would close its Jamestown branch on April 8. The building at 29 Narragansett Ave. was occupied by the Industrial National Bank in the 1960s, which changed its named to Fleet in 1982. The building has been home to Bank of America since the company acquired Fleet in 2004.
Although Bank of America packed up and left Jamestown this year, the other island bank expanded in 2011. BankNewport began major renovations on its Conanicus Avenue branch in March. The renovations included taking away the current drive-up lane to add 600 square feet of offices and conferences rooms, and then rebuilding the drive-up lane – along with an additional one – to the back of the building. The grand reopening was held on June 24.
While the town boards try their best to iron out most of the island’s problems, two major coastal infractions had to be taken care of by the state’s coastal agency this year. The first controversy arose when Mark Bard – who bought an empty lot on the north end of Clarke’s Village Lane – expressed interest in building a home on the land.
The problem with Bard’s proposal was that it didn’t leave enough of a buffer zone between his projected structure and the bluff overlooking Hull Cove. Following a variance denial from the town’s Zoning Board of Review, Bard sought a variance from the Coastal Resources Management Council. Abutters to Bard’s property were in opposition of his proposal, so they hired a lawyer to fight the variance request.
Jane Austin, a senior policy advisor for Save the Bay, showed up at the final public hearing to oppose the variance on behalf of her organization. “Save the Bay calls on members of the council to uphold the buffer and deny the proposal,” she said. “In spite of the extraordinary amount of time devoted to this case, it is a straightforward, common-sense case. For the CRMC to weaken its standards because the town kept theirs turns logic on its head.”
After four months – and multiple public hearings – the CRMC unanimously voted against the variance.
The CRMC was again tossed in the middle of a Jamestown land controversy when a realty group that bought property on Beavertail Road in 2005 violated six freshwater wetland regulations. According to the CRMC, the violations stemmed from a pond that was created on the land after they dammed a stream.
After two years of public hearings, cancelations, fines and onsite meetings, the two parties seemed to have reached a resolution at a December CRMC meeting, when PBH Realty agreed to cut the wall down to reduce damming. The deadline for completion of restoration was set for June 1.
This year marked the beginning of a project by the town’s Department of Public Works to phase out all cesspools that don’t comply with state regulations. According to Justin Jobin, an environmental scientist with the DPW, Jamestown at the beginning of 2011 had “14 parcels with cesspools or unknown systems that fall within 200 feet of the coast.”
Jamestown was chosen as one of the first communities in the statewide phase-out program because – as Gail Mastrati of the Department of Environmental Management said – it keeps good records.
The state cesspool phase-out act requires any cesspool that is “failed,” serves in a large capacity for a nonresidential facility or multifamily dwelling, or is within 200 feet of a shoreline, public well or drinking water reservoir, be replaced by Jan. 1, 2013. Mastrati said that although there are no specific dollar amounts on fines for non-compliance, fines would be enforced.
2011 might also be remembered as the year where initial Mount Hope Bridge tolling discussions took place. At the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority’s September meeting, the panel discussed reinstituting tolls on the Mount Hope Bridge. RITBA is responsible for two spans – the Newport Pell Bridge and the Mount Hope Bridge – and all money that goes to funding them is from tolls collected on the Newport Pell Bridge. In 1998, RITBA suspended tolling on the Mount Hope Bridge, but rather than raise tolls on the Newport Pell Bridge, the authority is looking at retolling the other bridge so that revenue for maintenance isn’t supported by just one side.
Avid bicycle riders and walkers also received good news this year. At the Financial Town Meeting in June, residents voted to allocate $21,000 for the design phase of a bike path – the proposed crossisland bike trail would connect Jamestown Shores with the village, by way of the reservoir.
More good news was shared by the Bike Path Design Committee at its Nov. 8 meeting. At the meeting the panel announced that it had received a letter from Department of Transportation Director Michael Lewis that said the state supported Jamestown’s proposal to build a bike path.
“RIDOT supports the funding of this project in the Transportation Improvement Program at the appropriate time, subject to successful project development and permitting by the town and the availability of funding,” Lewis wrote in the letter dated Oct. 24 addressed to Town Administrator Bruce Keiser. “We look forward to working with the town in the future on this exciting project.”
With the state’s support on record, Chairman Bob Sutton said that the town could now go forward with drafting a request for qualifications. The entire path will be built on town land.
“There will be no acquisition of land, which speeds up the process and makes it much easier,” Sutton said.