Council mulls rights-of-way
Jamestown will come up with a plan to address its problems with rights-of-way to the shoreline, which no longer allow easy access to the coast, the Town Council decided Monday night.
Jamestown Shores resident Sav Rebecchi raised the issue at April’s Harbor Commission meeting. Rebecchi said he tried to access the right-of-way in his neighborhood but gave up after he couldn’t find the access path. He surveyed rights-of-way in town and said many of them have problems.
According to Councilor Eugene Mihaly, the worst are found on the northwestern shore.
There may be one usable path there, he said, but most of the Jamestown Shores rights-of-way are “overgrown, encroached upon or broken down,” meaning people may be able to travel part of the right-of-way but not go all the way to the shoreline.
“I walked our rights-of-way, virtually all of them, which was a little disheartening,” he said. “In a word, they’re in terrible shape.”
Mihaly reported he has contacted the Coastal Resources Management Council for advice. The CRMC will come out and resurvey the rights-of-way, he said, but the state will not provide any money because they’re the town’s responsibility.
“They’re eager to support us in rectifying this,” he said. “But they will not pay.”
Mihaly said the CRMC suggested some approaches, which included creating a task force of citizens to look at the rights-of- way and develop a priority list. The council and the town would then decide about repairs.
“Clearly, the town may have to get involved,” he said. Eventually, individuals or groups might be able to take over the maintenance through an adoption program.
“It could be very exciting,” said Mihaly.
Harbor Commissioner Patrick Bolger said he participated in the 1997 survey of all the Jamestown rights-of-way.
“Gene is right,” said Bolger, who has also recently walked the rights-of-way and found extensive problems.
Only five rights-of-way can be reclaimed fairly easily, he indicated. Five others pose legal problems.
“Five of them have major encroachments by neighbors,” said Bolger. “Three or four are semi- hazardous. Two are seriously hazardous with major drop-offs. Others are major washouts that need drainage corrections, if you are going to fix them.”
Bolger said the Public Works Department is supposed to maintain the rights-of-way per the 1999 agreement with the town. He suggested the council should direct public works to clear and repair the rights-of-way, and not use a task force of citizens.
“Some could be trimmed and cleared, but we need some professional help and safe operating conditions,” Bolger said. “They ought to be safe if we’re going to open them and keep them open.”
Council President Kristine Trocki said she favors restoring the rights-of-way but was not sure whether to appoint a citizen committee or a combination of town employees and volunteers to start the work.
Councilor Mary Meagher said the 1999 report, which Bolger had referenced, was still valid. The report included a priority list. She suggested asking the staff to review the prioritized list to “see what shape they’re in.”
Mihaly suggested forming a committee to start the assessment consisting of Town Engineer Mike Gray, plus one or two councilors and interested citizens.
“Then we can decide whether we need a bulldozer,” he said.
Town Administrator Bruce Keiser said the staff should photograph the current conditions at the rights-of-way. Keiser said the initial pruning and clearing should be done by professional staff, and the conservation panel should be involved.
“This is a task for the Conservation Commission to undertake,” he said.
Councilor Blake Dickinson said there might be paths that won’t require the expertise “of people with engineering degrees.”
The town has many residents who know the shoreline well, Dickinson said. “We should partner with them and move this forward.”
Trocki asked about the legal liability if the council opted to create a task force. Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero said the citizens would have to sign a waiver releasing the town from liability for injuries suffered while working on the rights- of-way. He also said cutting is illegal on private property. Since the boundary markers are gone, there is a risk the volunteers might cut in the wrong location.
Councilor Thomas Tighe said he could anticipate a “whole host of problems,” adding that once the councilors open the rights-of-way, the town will be responsible for maintaining them.
“Let me point out we have a responsibility anyway,” Mihaly said. “People may be trying to use them now.”
Bolger said there is no difference between maintaining the rights-of-way and maintaining the roads.
“It is DPW’s responsibility,” he said. “We’ve just grown lax. The town administrator and Department of Public Works need to put it on priority.”
Also, he said, the Town Council needs to “make a policy” about the rights-of-way.
Bolger said the survey markers were gone but not because they had been overgrown with brush.
“People have removed them because they don’t want them open,” he said, referring to the rights-of- way.
Mihaly said he sensed the councilors wanted to discuss the options at another meeting before taking action. Meanwhile, the councilors agreed to walk the rights-of-way themselves and be ready to discuss priorities at their next meeting. Also, the staff will take photographs to document current conditions at each right-of-way.