2012-04-19 / Editorial

Why rush to Fort Getty decision?


Jamestown has spent 18 years trying to develop a Fort Getty plan. The efforts have yielded a pair of master plans, community survey responses, opinions from a charrette, and, most recently, a financial analysis from a consultant.

One reason a decision about Fort Getty remains elusive is that we have not started with the landscape itself – over 40 acres of beaches, marsh, trails, fields and a dock. We have been trying to make decisions around an RV campground. If the town wants to operate a campground, is Fort Getty the best location? Why not examine other town-owned property or have a conversation with the state about Beavertail State Park which has far more space.

If the Town Council plans to create consensus on the future of Fort Getty at the upcoming April 23 workshop, I have a question for the council: Should our park be treasured as a $20 million asset instead of taken for granted as a $250,000 revenue stream, as a local resident recently argued?

What’s the rush?

The council rushed to complete a new pavilion that cost nearly $500,000, is located in a floodplain, and generated an income stream of $6,000. The construction costs are higher, the insurance will be higher, and digging those foundation supports so close to the beach could accelerate erosion.

I would like to point out a few more strong reasons why the council should pull up and wait – even if it means deferring the decision to a future council.

A desire to “wrap this up” does not generate the best decision. In fact, any decision driven by a sense of frustration is much more likely to be a poor decision. The pavilion is our most recent example.

And that leads to another reason for the council to wait: There are still too many questions for the council to proceed. Some of those questions were quoted in a recent Press article referring to a report from the Fort Getty Choices Committee. One of them asks, “What uses are compatible and incompatible with each other?”

Voters at the Fort Getty charrette singled out “open space and passive recreation” as their singlemost preferred use of the park. And national surveys indicate that, due to crushing debt, many American families are embarking on “staycations” instead of vacations. But how could Fort Getty allow for “staycations” if the park is dominated by RV campers who stay for the entire summer?

Councilors and residents want to share the beauty of Jamestown but right now only 88 families get to have a second home at Fort Getty. Even if there are 20 percent fewer RV campsites, it means a small number of families use the park from May to September. It should be accessible to far more families if there were no-trace camping and a limited stay policy. More families would come to swim, fish and picnic. Or simply encourage families to stay for the day, enjoy the beach and have lunch from a food stand run by a Jamestown business.

Has the council really thought about the compatibility of an RV campground with open space?

I believe that this, or a future, council should launch an islandwide Fort Getty survey to ascertain the preferences of all Jamestown residents. I doubt that the survey will indicate a desire to invest in costly electrical, water and bathroom upgrades. The RV campers are getting larger and more elaborate each year, requiring ever-more electricity (at town expense) to run their air conditioners and TVs.

And that brings me to a third strong reason that the council shouldn’t rush into a Fort Getty decision: financial myths.

I have heard the argument that there’s no way we could replace the $250,000 in income from the RV campers. First of all, that is patently false. It’s a smokescreen hiding the council’s RV advocacy. The reality is, there are many ways to replace that income if the council wanted to. Which raises another question: Do we have to replace all of the income?

If we treated the park as a $20 million asset should be treated, we would try to provide residents and visitors with as much access as possible. We could have occasional musical or theatrical performances to bring in enough money for maintenance purposes. But a rushed decision to keep the RV campground in its entirety will ensure that those seaside events, along with open space, will be precluded for generations to come.

The author is a member of the Fort Getty Choices Committee.

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