2013-02-14 / Front Page

Panel mulls 2013 goals


The Conservation Commission may ask the Jamestown Press for its own byline.

Commissioner Kate Smith, who came up with the idea, said tips about conservation issues, like feeding wildlife, could go in a column called “Did You Know?”

Chairwoman Carol Trocki suggested the column could fol- low the model Bob Sutton used two summers ago (“Conanicut Grange Report”) for his pieces about goings-on at the local farms. She said that the column could focus on topical issues appropriate for specific times of the year, such as the annual Earth Day cleanup.

The idea to start a newspaper column came up after Trocki told an anecdote about her predecessor, Chris Powell. Powell had spotted a woman feeding bread to the seagulls, and he tried to persuade her to stop.

“Chris tried to do the educationoutreach thing,” she said. “Unsuccessfully.” According to Trocki, other towns have enacted ordinances so police can actually require people to stop feeding wildlife. Smith didn’t feel adopting an ordinance is necessary.

“Maybe just a little article in the Press from the Conservation Commission,” she said.

As the panel continued work on setting its 2013 priorities, the commissioners also did some soulsearching about how they could best carry out their charge to protect and preserve Jamestown’s open spaces and natural resources.

Last year, said Trocki, the commissioners focused on their role as stewards of Jamestown’s conservation lands. They also acted as advisors to other town boards on conservation issues.

But in addition to its official responsibilities, the panel is tasked with “initiation responsibility” for 16 action items identified in the Jamestown Comprehensive Community Plan.

The action items include major projects like developing a detailed greenway feasibility study and implementation plan, as well as ongoing efforts such as trying to acquire farmland or farm development rights.

The question, Trocki asked, was where did each item fit in the Conservation Commission’s goals for 2013?

“Are these all things we think we should be working on?” Trocki asked. She then presented a “laundry list of things” for review.

Commissioner Ted Smayda said he doubted the commissioners had the expertise to deal effectively with a number of items. He went on to add two items in particular – aquaculture education and invasive species management – that seemed to delve into areas beyond the commission’s authority.

“In 12 sessions in the past year, we’ve dealt primarily with infractions,” Smayda said as he looked over the list. “I don’t see how we are commissioned or organized to allow us to do even a smidgen of this.”

Smayda also said he felt frustrated because the commission has been in a pattern of reacting to events, such as violations of wetlands or coastal buffers, and he would like to see the panel become more proactive.

Mackerel Cove was a case in point, he said. The commissioners took the initiative and asked state geologist John Boothroyd for suggestions about managing the erosion at the barrier beach.

“We rely on people like John Boothroyd, who’s superb,” Smayda said. “But to make a difference, we need to go to the next level.”

Smayda said the commissioners need a coastal engineer to calculate the mechanics of the actual restoration.

Trocki disagreed.

“We are volunteers,” she said. “We are not employees of the town.”

“I know that,” Smayda replied.

Trocki reiterated the fact the commissioners are meant to be “entirely advisory,” and said the Town Council ultimately makes the decisions. In the case of Mackerel Cove, the commissioners could have advised the councilors to pay for a coastal geological study, Trocki said, or they could have argued for moving the road to protect the beach. But ultimately, the town councilors will choose a course of action.

“Our role is to put those ideas forward,” she said. “It’s not our responsibility to make those things happen.”

“But what I’m saying is, there is timidity on the part of the Conservation Commission,” Smayda said.

At that, Trocki began laughing and said she and Smayda must not have been talking to the same people. She said people have been “taking shots” at the Conservation Commission for being too forward. “It’s just funny to hear you say the opposite,” she said.

Smith said Smayda should accept the limitations due to the commission’s status as an advisory board. No one can say for sure how much weight the panel’s opinion will have, she said, and that’s the case in every town with an advisory commission.

“It’s a little bit slow going,” Trocki agreed. “We don’t have time for everything, but what are the things on our wish list?”

She suggested each board member step up and “push that forward a little bit.”

Smayda said he would like to develop a lecture series, a string of about a dozen experts who are brought in to speak to residents. Smayda said he also wanted to “fine tune” the lecture topics.

“I personally don’t think invasive species management is within our purview,” he said.

Trocki said that was OK, and he should mark up the list with comments.

If he wanted, she said, he could make the same comment about aquaculture education.

“If you don’t think this is a good use of our time,” said Trocki, “it shouldn’t be a priority.”

Trocki added the other commissioners would weigh in during the discussion and majority would decide.

Smith said Smayda had scored a “really good point” about getting realistic on how to educate residents. She added a lecture series was a good plan. “The arts center is receptive to a lecture,” she said.

Smith suggested the commissioners could come to an agreement on the list of topics and “cherry-pick” issues.

Trocki said the commissioners could also rely on partnerships to help engage the public and educate people about conservation. For example, the commission could collaborate with the Friends of the Jamestown Library on the lecture series.

Commissioner Maureen Coleman suggested the panel should realign its priorities with the comprehensive plan’s emphasis on protecting and preserving open space. Coleman said the open space issue keeps falling to the bottom of the commission’s list of projects, but really needs priority.

Smith suggested putting the top priorities on a schedule, and Trocki added the commissioners could reorganize their meeting agendas to reflect the 2013 goals. She said the commission should not spend all its time and energy on recent events such as violations.

“We have business we have to take care of,” Smith said. She suggested the panel could allocate 30 minutes each meeting to being proactive on one of its goals.

The commissioners will continue discussing their 2013 priorities at their March meeting.

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