2012-12-27 / Front Page

Bon voyage, 2012

No new tolls or turbine, but a different Town Council

While the Mayan calendar predicted otherwise, the world will enter a new year next week and 2012 will be history. Like all years, over the last 12 months we have welcomed – and said goodbye – to certain people that we’ve grown accustomed. 2012 was no different.

This year we bade adieu to a group of public servants who spent the last three years working to keep property taxes down: Mike Schnack, Bob Bowen, Bill Murphy, Mike White and Ellen Winsor. We also said goodbye – more tragically – to Mike Parrish, a Jamestown native and local musician who was run over by a Jeep Cherokee and killed following a confrontation in West Warwick.

But not all events that were seemingly heading for catastrophe ended that way. In August, Harbormaster Sam Paterson rescued a jumper from the Jamestown Bridge after the young man survived the 135-foot plunge into the West Passage of Narragansett Bay. Just two months earlier, a two-man crew aboard a 32-foot fishing boat was rescued from the jagged rocks at Beavertail after strong winds and 12-foot-high waves forced the boat aground. The men survived. The boat was destroyed.

But 2012 wasn’t all goodbyes and close calls. We welcomed John McCauley as the new head of the Jamestown Chamber of Commerce, Molly Conlon as the teen coordinator, Richard Leco as executive director of the Housing Authority, and Jared Brongo as the new postmaster. Also, 21-year-old Ryan Conlon was elected to the School Committee and Deb Debiase replaced Kathy Almanzor as principal of Lawn Avenue School.

Superior Court Judge Francis Darigan Jr. and Rear Adm. Robin Watters retired from long careers.

As is tradition at the Press, we like to end the year with a look at the top stories. Here is what ruled the headlines in 2012, in chronological order.

Toll increases on

Newport Bridge

The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority authorized a toll increase on the Newport Bridge following contentious work sessions.

While the authority in February did increase the tolls from 83 cents to $1 for E-ZPass users, and from $4 to $5 for motorists who pay the cash rate, the increase would only go into effect if the General Assembly and Gov. Lincoln Chafee kept the status quo.

The bridge authority asked lawmakers in Providence to consider two options: the first was to reinstitute the toll on the Mount Hope Bridge, and the second proposal was to transfer control of the Sakonnet River and Jamestown spans to the bridge authority. This would give the RITBA jurisdiction to toll the Sakonnet River Bridge.

“The proposal would give us two more assets, and one of them that would be able to provide revenue,” said David Darlington, chairman of the authority’s board of directors.

Darlington got his wish. Chafee signed the state budget into law in June, and transferred ownership of Rhode Island’s two other large bridges to the authority. RITBA now controls the four biggest spans in the state.

Following heated public hearings in the East Bay about instituting tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge, the authority is currently mulling whether to go forward with tolling the new span.

14 residents declare candidacy for office

Three women and 11 men tossed their hat into the ring in June to vie for one of five expiring seats on Jamestown’s primary decisionmaking body: the Town Council. (Two others officially declared, but withdrew soon after.) With nine of the 13 candidates registered Democrats, the five challengers decided that they had a better chance of surviving the primary if they worked together.

Their strategy proved effective – Mary Meagher, Kristine Trocki, Gene Mihaly, Tom Tighe and George Levesque swept the primary, leaving the four Democratic councilors lame ducks. When all was said and done, all but one of the “Clean Slate” candidates was elected to serve on the Town Council.

But Election Day was all but a certainty. When Jamestowers went to bed following the precinct totals, only two candidates (Meagher and Trocki) were mathematically guaranteed a seat on the council. That was because of nearly 400 outstanding absentee ballots that had yet to be tallied. Although Tighe and Mihaly both had comfortable leads – the trend would have had to sway drastically with write-in voters for them to lose a seat – Republican Paul Sprague and incumbent Ellen Winsor were both within 75 votes of Republican Blake Dickinson, who held a slight lead for the fifth and final seat.

After more than two days of counting absentees ballots, the state finally released its official results on Nov. 8. Dickinson was elected to join the Town Council as the minority Republican on a panel with four Democrats who spent the previous two months campaigning together.

Bay welcomes world-class sailing

While San Francisco won the bid over Newport to host the America’s Cup Finals, the City by the Sea received a lucrative consolation prize: an America’s Cup World Series regatta.

The result was a success. More than 60,000 people visited Newport during the four-day event, with many tourists pouring into Jamestown and pumping muchneeded money into Rhode Island’s economy. As for the races themselves, spectators were in awe of the size and speed of the high-tech, 45-foot catamarans that raced the Narragansett Bay course at upwards of 30 mph.

Local business owner John Recca was happy with both the racing and the added business. “The Shack at Dutch Harbor was booming all weekend. We sold dozens and dozens of lobster rolls. The mooring field at Dutch Harbor was full and the foot traffic was terrifi c.”

As for the racing, the former competitive sailor was pleased to see the boats racing so close to the coastline. “It was a terrific show. The short course, fast boats and close-to-shore format appealed to a far greater crowd than the old style of racing 7 to 10 miles out to sea.”

Fort Wetherill was a popular (and free) spot to view the regatta, and the state Department of Environmental Management and Jamestown Police Department helped keep traffic moving. When the state park filled to capacity, Jamestown shut its doors for any more spectators, making sure not to flood the streets with more than the town could handle.

Hull Cove right-of-way threatened

Sometime in late July – without the permission of the town and state – someone took it upon themselves to alter a 6-foot-wide trail off Beavertail Road to make it spacious enough to drive a truck through. Along with clear-cutting the brush and trees to widen the path, the perpetrator also destroyed a town-owned parking barrier. It was replaced by an iron gate with a sign that read, “Please do not block gate. Private driveway.”

The problem that town officials had was two-fold. First, the town considered the path a public rightof way due to adverse possession. Second, even if the land had been private property, the owner had no right to cut any vegetation without assent from the Coastal Resources Management Council because it is considered wetlands.

“Owners of the cabana lots 110 years ago granted permission to individuals to use that private right-of-way as a means to reach the Hull Cove shore,” said Bruce Keiser. “So that right-of-way was abandoned through non-use by the private residents.”

While there is no iron gate there anymore, the police never confirmed who actually did the damage. Since wetlands were destroyed, the state is looking for money to restore the right-of-way, and because police can’t prove who is responsible, the town remains liable.

No turbine for

Taylor Point

The Town Council – just 10 weeks before all five members were voted out of office – made the decision to not go forward with the wind turbine that had been at the forefront of planning and discussion for nearly half a decade.

By a vote of 4-1, the council in August decided not to file an application for a $44,000 grant from the state Economic Development Corporation. Without the funding, the town wouldn’t be able to continue studies necessary to construct a wind turbine, theoretically squashing the proposal.

The wind turbine had been a top story in Jamestown for years, with both outspoken and long-winded opponents and supporters. The only councilor to go against the grain was Bob Bowen, who said, “I think it’s unfortunate that we stop the process when we’re in a position to be funded to get additional data to help make an informed decision. Some of the comments I heard regarding whether this was an appropriate business decision doesn’t make any sense.”

Opponents this year brought to the council (and with letters to the editor) a laundry list of reasons to abandon the project. Would it be economically feasible? Are there health risks involved? Is it aesthetically pleasing? Will the bridge authority sue the town? Does the town have the appropriate staff to maintain it?

Whether the new council will revisit the turbine proposal is unknown.

Marsh Meadows gets unexpected visitor

Hundreds of people flocked to Jamestown in October to get a glimpse of something that had never before been seen in New England: a wood sandpiper.

Carlos Pedro, an out-of-state birder who was in town to get a glimpse of a tri-colored heron, spotted the rare shorebird wading around in Marsh Meadows.

The sandpiper typically breeds across Europe and Asia just south of the Arctic, and Pedro had previously come across the bird in England. The Jamestown sighting is only the seventh time the bird has been spotted in the Lower 48. (It frequents Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.)

When Pedro broke the news of the “mega” – a term used by birders to describe an extremely rare bird to a certain geographical area – dozens of cars lined North Road within hours, with license plates reading Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, New Hampshire and Maine. The bird spent a few weeks in Jamestown, hopping around on both the east and west side of the Great Creek section of North Road. Nobody knows exactly when it left, or what it was doing here.

Coincidentally, another rare bird was spotted in Jamestown just a month later. A mountain bluebird – which typically doesn’t travel east of the Rocky Mountains – was spotted first at Fort Getty by islander Marci Lindsay.

Trat sold to Newport businessman

Last year Jamestown Fish opened its doors to rave reviews, and with any luck, Newport businessman Ben Brayton will watch his new restaurant follow in Fish’s footsteps when it opens for business in 2013.

The sale of Trattoria Simpatico from long-time owner Phyllis Bedard to Brayton was finalized Nov. 1. Brayton will name his restaurant Simpatico Jamestown.

Currently, renovations are underway in the building at 13 Narragansett Ave. Plans drawn up by architect Bill Burgin were approved by the Planning Commission in December, and the work will be done in two phases. When islanders walk in Simpatico Jamestown for the first time, they will notice handicapped bathrooms and a new bar area. There will also be a dining porch and the outdoor service space will be enclosed. When that is done, Burgin plans to screen in the outdoor bar and rework the tent area so there is more storage space.

There will be no new seats added to the restaurant, and parking at Trattoria will continue to be the only restaurant in town up to par with the parking ordinance.

No time wasted with

Fort Getty

In early December, in just its second meeting – and tackling its first full agenda – the newly elected Town Council wasted no time delving into what was easily the most divisive topic on the campaign trail: the Fort Getty campground.

At the council’s first gathering since being sworn in, residents criticized the panel for its hasty approach. “This is the first time this plan has come up,” one man said. “Do you really think it should be voted on in a week?”

While the resident’s plea bought some time, the proposal was brought to a vote seven days later at a special meeting. It passed unanimously. The Town Council decided in its first month what the previous council contemplated for two years: to reduce the number of RV sites at Fort Getty.

Meagher’s proposal called for the elimination of more than two dozen sites along Fort Getty Road. A week later the Town Council made another controversial decision regarding Fort Getty. On a recommendation from Town Administrator Bruce Keiser, the councilors voted unanimously to raise the price of each campsite by $800 – a 21 percent jump. They also voted to shorten the season.

On Oct. 15, the final meeting of the outgoing council, there were 105 RV sites at Fort Getty. It cost $3,700 to rent a site for the 19- week season. By Dec. 17, it cost $4,500 to rent one of the 84 sites for 17 weeks.

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