2013-01-10 / Front Page

Fort Getty rates won’t increase for residents

Price goes up only for out-of-town campers
BY STEVE HEFFNER

The enduring saga of the campground at Fort Getty got some fresh plot twists at Monday’s Town Council meeting, and thanks largely to the persistence of Weatherly Court resident Maurice Laflamme, one of the new developments is good news for local folks.

Laflamme, who is one of only three Jamestowners currently with seasonal RV camping privileges at Fort Getty, has long argued that town residents should be given more preferential treatment at the campground. His argument has taken on urgency as the council voted to reduce seasonal campsites by 15 and substantially increase seasonal fees.

Laflamme won a big part of his argument Monday when the council agreed not to raise seasonal rates on town residents. The council also decided to give islanders a measure of preferential treatment in acquiring camping privileges when campsites become available.

With council member Blake Dickinson out of town, the remaining four members voted unanimously to leave the seasonal campsite fee for 2013 at the 2012 level of $3,700 for town residents. The rate for the coming season will be $4,500 for nonresidents. In addition, the council voted to allow an arrangement by which town residents would alternate with nonresidents, one for one, in determining which people currently on the waiting list are granted campsites if they become available. Town Administrator Bruce Keiser told the council that there are currently a dozen town residents on the waiting list.

Keiser said after the meeting that his understanding of the council’s intentions is that the alternating system will also apply if desirable camping sites become available and campers want to relocate from their existing sites to more attractive ones.

Traditionally, only a handful of campsites become available every year through attrition, as those with seasonal privileges decide to give them up. But with the rates for the sites rising substantially this year, Laflamme predicted to the council that “there are going to be at least 20 sites that will open up,” as campers decide the rate is too high for their budgets. At that point, he said, residents on the wait list should be given a preference in acquiring those sites.

In a letter to the council, Laflamme also pointed out that residents already pay lower fees for boat moorings than nonresidents, as well as for daily fees at Fort Getty and Mackerel Cove. He argued that the same should apply to camping fees at Fort Getty.

In other Fort Getty business, the council voted to increase the fee for seasonal boat parking from $450 to $600, but it postponed action on a number of fees, including for use of the pavilion. The council also voted to allow the Conanicut Island Sailing Foundation to return to Fort Getty for a second season.

Later in the meeting, a small dustup arose over the town’s proposed bicycle path and a $900 shortfall needed to complete a wetlands application to the state Department of Environmental Management. The review is necessary because a portion of the proposed path runs through wetlands near the North Reservoir and requires DEM approval.

Robert Sutton, chairman of the town’s Bike Path Design Committee, explained to the council that the shortfall was “a legitimate calculation error” made by engineers hired by the town to help design the bike path. The engineers had originally calculated that the application fee would be $300, but, after that money had been budgeted by the town, the DEM reported that the fee was actually $1,200.

Sutton told the council that the additional $900 would allow the town to receive permission to get to the next stage of design, and he recommended that the council not hesitate to “send a check” to DEM. The money would be drawn from a fund the town maintains for incidental and emergency expenditures.

Sutton reminded the council that, not only had previous councils given their blessings to the project, the matter also was endorsed by the public when a referendum was passed at the annual Financial Town Meeting.

All four Democrats on the council appeared to favor authorizing the additional money, with Council President Kristine Trocki noting, “That’s what the incidentals [fund] is for.” But she also said that the absent Republican member, Dickinson, had contacted her from Florida, raised concerns about the propriety of allocation, and asked her to postpone a vote until the next council meeting on Jan. 14.

Sutton expressed frustration with Dickinson’s request, saying that the councilor had spoken out in the past against the bike path, but the council should not be deterred from proceeding. “The way you get these projects done is to keep them moving,” Sutton said.

Councilor Eugene Mihaly initially concurred and recommended overriding Dickinson’s request in favor of taking an immediate vote to approve the funding. “I think we should go ahead,” he said. “We’ve decided we want this project.”

Council member Mary Meagher called Dickinson’s request “a form of filibuster.” Nevertheless, she said, the councilors ran for their seats on a platform of civility, and, in that spirit, she recommended postponing the vote.

Mihaly then reconsidered his position, noting that “civility is of high value,” and that “unless the case can be made that the project will be truly hampered,” he also would recommend postponing a vote on the supplemental request.

Trocki said she also was inclined to postpone the vote after “a fellow councilperson thought enough of [the issue] to call me from Florida.” The councilors asked Sutton whether the project would suffer if the funding were to be delayed.

Sutton responded that, in the end, he didn’t think a week really would make a difference, providing everyone involved was alive in a week.

“You can do anything in government if you live long enough,” he said.

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