2012-07-12 / News

Fort Getty has changed since 2005 plan

VIEWPOINT
BY PATRICK BOLGER AND
BETTY HUBBARD

At the last two Fort Getty workshops, Town Council President Mike Schnack has praised the 2005 Fort Getty Master Plan. As two members of the committee that wrote that plan, we thank him for his kind words. Our committee worked hard on it: It is well researched and has many fine recommendations.

But seven years have brought changes to Jamestown and to Fort Getty that we believe the council should consider before committing the town to a large expenditure for improvements to the park.

What has changed since 2005? When the plan was written – and, in fact, until 2010 – RV campers suffered from problems with the electrical system. Some even got shocks when they touched their vehicles. National Grid apparently corrected the problem of stray voltage in the fall of 2010 because service calls dropped dramatically in 2011. Improving the electrical system to ensure safety was a real concern. Upgrading it to provide air conditioning and amenities to large RVs is something else, and worth a discussion between councilors and townspeople.

We have heard no complaints about water quality from campers since 2010. The town now thoroughly flushes the water system upon opening the campground. Again, the need for improvements may be less urgent.

Despite these issues, the campground has had a 100 percent wait list for years. Much of this is due to the location, but rates are $1,000 less for the season than those at Middletown’s Second Beach Campground. The town could consider raising rates, if revenue is the only concern. But our committee discovered that Jamestown residents were becoming increasingly interested in using Fort Getty themselves. Improvements to the boat ramp and the new pavilion will encourage more use. In addition, for the first time, sailing is being offered as a rec program at Fort Getty. This was one of the primary recommendations in our plan. We envisioned the park as the hub of Jamestown’s summer recreation program. Thanks to the Conanicut Island Sailing Foundation, a series of weeklong camps are available this summer. Save the Bay and other organizations are also offering programs.

So another option available to the town might be to reduce the size of the RV park. On a summer’s day, with all the boats, cars and RVs, there are well over 350 vehicles parked there. That doesn’t include the folks who come to use the park for the day to go to the beach, use the boat ramp, the outhauls or the dock. The 2005 plan reduced the RV park by 25 percent. Seven years later, we think that reduction is not enough to accommodate the many uses that could, and should, go on at the park. And we believe the town should see how these new programs work out before reorganizing the layout.

Lastly, problems at the Recreation Department have made it impossible to really know just how much money Fort Getty has generated over the past few years. We just don’t know the gross revenue or the net. It is important that Jamestown taxpayers know the real bottom line.

Since disbanding the Fort Getty Master Plan Committee in 2010, the council has held at least six workshops concerning the park. But only at the workshop led by Landworks – the consultants hired by the council to develop a program of uses and financial analysis for Fort Getty – did townspeople engage in a back and forth interaction about what should happen at the park. Ideas were generated and issues discussed by 125 citizens, more than attended this year’s Financial Town Meeting.

Workshops since have been simple forums: one citizen offers an opinion, sits down, and another pops up to offer their own. Councilors have offered their thoughts too, though few have been as specifi c as President Schnack. We think there are still a lot of questions about Fort Getty. What are the real revenues? What about these new programs? What about Landworks’ analyses of possible uses? Shouldn’t we be thinking of Fort Getty not by itself, but in conjunction with the other recreation spaces in town that also need renovation?

We hope the council takes this opportunity to review the uses and revenues of Fort Getty with the community. We hope on Monday, July 16, they discuss options openly and thoroughly. We hope they utilize the efforts of their consultants and our committee as starting points. We hope they do not feel compelled to decide on expensive investments in infrastructure, but that they begin the planning process.

The authors were both members of the now defunct Fort Getty Master Plan Committee. Bolger served as the Conservation Commission’s representative to the committee, Hubbard was the Planning Commission’s.

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