2013-04-18 / News

Potter’s Cove could be out as finish line for Save the Bay Swim

Due to sequestration, swim can no loner use Naval War College as starting point
By Ken Shane

Congress and President Barack Obama agreed in 2011 that if they couldn’t come up with a compromise on budget reductions by New Year’s Day 2013, steep spending cuts would go into effect automatically. The cuts were delayed until March 1, but when the parties continued to fail to reach an agreement, sequestration took effect.

Among the parts of government most affected by the cuts is the U.S. military.

The cuts to military budgets have now impacted two signature events in southern Rhode Island. Last week the U.S. Navy announced that it could not allow the annual Save the Bay Swim to use its traditional starting point at the Navy facility in Newport as a result of budget cuts.

Save the Bay Executive Director Jonathan Stone expressed disappointment at the Navy’s decision. He said his organization has offered to pay any incremental costs associated with the Newport start, which mostly have to do with security people on hand to direct traffic. In the event that the Navy still won’t be able to host the start, Stone says that Save the Bay is seeking alternatives, and hopes to keep the swim’s finishing point at Potter’s Cove in Jamestown.

“We understand that this is not a decision from Naval Station Newport,” Stone said. “This is a decision from Washington. A lot of Navy people and former Navy people do the swim. We have a great relationship with the Navy. They’re a great host. We appreciate the pressure they’re under.”

Stone insisted the argument is erroneous that starting the swim at the base is costing the Navy money. He said his organization has offered to cover any costs that the Navy would incur as hosts.

This year will mark the 37th occurrence of the Save the Bay Swim. The first few editions of the swim started at Fort Adams and ended at Fort Wetherill, but for at least 30 years the race has started at the Naval War College and ended in Jamestown. Save the Bay’s permit from the Coast Guard allows them to have 500 swimmers in the water on the day of the swim. The actual number of swimmers is usually closer to 450 because there are cancellations. There are also about 250 people in kayaks accompanying the swimmers.

According to Stone, the swim’s finish line is a major logistical challenge, so he hopes to keep it in Potter’s Cove. The cove is a good location to get the swimmers and kayakers out of the water, he says, and it provides space for the after party.

“We’re looking at all options,” Stone said. “There are a couple of options in Newport Harbor and we’ve got a couple of other options up the bay which would require relocating the swim. We just don’t know what the best option is right now.”

Stone added that a return to the original Fort Adams-to-Fort Wetherill route is not advisable due to the strong currents in the area. He expressed determination that the swim will go forward on July 20 as scheduled.

“It’s a very important event for us on a number of different levels,” he said. “One is fundraising, which is crucial to our mission. The publicity and the importance of community involvement in cleaning up the bay is the whole reason the event began in the first place. It’s a signature event to celebrate our mission. We will have a swim.”

The other big sequester-related announcement came from the Rhode Island National Guard, which announced the cancellation of the 23rd RING Open House Air Show at Quonset scheduled for late June. According to Maj. Christopher Peloso, public affairs officer for the 143rd Airlift Wing, the decision was made to cancel the air show after all seven of the military acts in the show – including the legendary Blue Angels – were forced to withdraw due to budgetary considerations.

“For us to have an open house air show, it needs to be geared towards telling and showing the public what we do here,” Peloso said. “We showcase all of the military equipment, people and aircraft. We cannot have an air show if it is based solely on a civilian performance, which is what this ended up being.”

Peloso said that after receiving the cancellation notice from the Blue Angels, the last of the military units to withdraw, the event committee met to discuss alternatives. After considering the situation for two days, Maj. Gen. Kevin McBride, the adjutant general in the state, made the decision to cancel the air show for this year.

“It’s unfortunate that we had to do that, but our hands are tied,” Peloso said. “This is sequestration.”

Peloso said the decision was particularly difficult because not only does it ruin some people’s main event for the summer, but it will also have an adverse effect on hotels, restaurants and other businesses that serve the 60,000 to 100,000 people who attend the air show each year.

“On a brighter note, we are going to plan for 2014,” he said. “We can’t predict that we won’t face the same challenges next year, but we’re going to go out and try to get some great military acts and some great civilian acts. We’re hopeful and optimistic that 2014 will be a great show.”

Paul Murray is a Jamestown photographer who has been photographing the annual air show continuously since 2009. He has authored two books on the air show.

“I think it’s unfortunate that the sequester has ended up cutting short the air show in its 23rd year of continuous operation,” Murray said. “It certainly has been the premier air show of southern New England. It has been a way for the Rhode Island National Guard to reach out the community, show them what they do, and welcome them into one of their major bases.”

Among the other events that fell victim to the sequester cuts was Navy Week. The annual event was to be held in 18 different American cities this year, including Providence. Navy Week is designed to demonstrate the investment that Americans have made in the Navy, and the role that the Navy plays in providing security for the country. There have been 148 Navy Weeks in 62 cities around the country since 2005.

Leapfest, the annual international parachute competition scheduled for August in West Kingston, was also canceled.

“Under the current guidelines of sequestration outlined by the Department of Defense, all scheduled military demonstrations, including jump teams, are prohibited from performing,” said McBride. “It is our intent to plan and prepare for the Leapfest in 2014.”

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