State holds town liable for damage to footpath
Taxpayers are going to foot the bill for an environmental scofflaw who cut down trees and shrubs on a right-of-way leading from Beavertail Road to Hull Cove. The wreckage widened a conservation trail enough to drive a truck though, Town Administrator Bruce Keiser reported at the Town Council’s Sept. 17 meeting.
He estimated the damages will probably cost islanders more than $17,000.
The wetlands violations, which were committed by an unknown person, were discovered over the summer. In August, Police Chief Ed Mello asked islanders for help solving the case and urged witnesses to contact police with information, but no one came forward.
Ultimately, the state’s Coastal Resources Management Council opted to press a case against the town, which has claimed to own the right-of-way by adverse possession.
The CRMC was “aware of the conundrum,” Keiser said, but with no individual to be charged, the state decided to hold the community responsible for restoring the site.
Enforcement officers recently visited the Hull Cove right-of-way to make a restoration plan.
“The CRMC has given us a letter indicating they would like to see the trail returned to the status quo,” Keiser said.
In the letter, which is dated Sept.14, Laura Miguel, an enforcement official for CRMC, notified Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero that the state will “continue to monitor the site” but would consider the matter resolved if the town complied with its requirements.
“In order to resolve this violation, the town of Jamestown should remove, to the extent practicable, all cut limbs and vegetative debris from the widened path,” the letter said. “Where practical, large shrubs and trees should be replaced. Additionally, the CRMC is concerned the trail will be maintained at its current width.”
Miguel said the CRMC wants the trail width limited to 6 feet.
“The cost of replacing the trees is huge,” said Town Council President Mike Schnack.
Keiser said according to the town Tree Preservation and Protection Committee, the price of the trees is about $17,000.
In other business, the councilors have decided not to support a Portsmouth Town Council resolution against tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge. The councilors had discussed the issue about the tolls at their Sept. 4 meeting. At that time, they directed Keiser to speak to Buddy Croft, executive director of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority, about new developments as they impact tolls on the Newport Pell Bridge.
Keiser reported he had contacted Croft to discuss “the status of proposals that had received widespread debate.” According to Croft, RITBA will need $9 million in new revenue to pay for capital improvements on the Jamestown, Newport and Mount Hope bridges if the state goes forward with a plan to transfer control to RITBA of the Jamestown and Sakonnet River bridges. Currently the bridges are managed by the state Department of Transportation. RITBA has indicated it will need to raise the revenue through tolls, either by tolling the Sakonnet span or by raising the toll on the Newport Bridge, which would go from 83 cents to $1 for state residents with EZ-Pass, and $4 to $5 for other motorists.
“It’s a zero sum game,” Keiser said, meaning the outcome will have a clear winner and loser.
“We’re not on the same side of the table with folks up the bay on tolling the Sakonnet Bridge,” he said. Keiser urged the council not to support the Portsmouth resolution.
In other business, islanders will pay the same water rate as last year, but will see their sewer rate climb by 5.8 percent. The councilors met as the sewer and water board prior to the regular meeting and voted to accept the 2012-13 budgets for both departments, as proposed, with $1.029 million earmarked for the water budget, and $566,623 for sewer.
Keiser said the town was able to keep the water-rate level this year, but residents should anticipate increases next year.
In correspondence, the councilors formally accepted an email from Chris Powell, the former Conservation Commission chairman. Powell questioned the panel’s decision to name the so-called west trail in Fort Getty after a firefi ghter. Schnack said he spoke to Powell about the email.
“If he would have known the vote had already been taken, he would never have written this email,” Schnack said.