2013-11-07 / News

Councilors will discuss Newport Bridge safety

By Margo Sullivan

The Town Council will discuss safety on the Newport Pell Bridge at an upcoming meeting following a request Monday from David Prior.

Prior, whose brother was killed in October 2011 on his way home to Jamestown in a head-on collision caused by a teenage driver, addressed the councilors during open forum Monday. The teenage driver, James Mackenzie of Middletown, crossed over the median and slammed into the car driven by Prior’s friend, Kathy Meunier. Video showed Mackenzie’s car was traveling approximately 63 mph. Meunier was killed instantly. Prior died later at Rhode Island Hospital. Mackenzie pled guilty to speeding, paid a $365 fine and lost his license for six months. He was not criminally charged.

Since his brother’s death, Prior said, his family has sought to find ways to protect others from similar accidents on the bridge. He noted 27,000 people cross the bridge daily, and 15,000 of them are islanders. By industry standards, a bridge serving 20,000 cars or more should be equipped with median barriers, but the Pell Bidge does not have one, despite numerous incidents of crossover crashes.

Council President Kristine Trocki expressed sympathy for the Prior family and said she would like to comment but couldn’t do so at the Nov. 4 meeting because the matter was not on the council’s agenda.

Prior said he would like the council to discuss bridge safety as a future agenda item.

Attorney John Murphy, who has represented the Prior family, noted his letter about bridge safety was part of the official meeting correspondence. Specifically, his letter asks the council to support a resolution calling for the installation of a “center median barrier on the Newport Pell Bridge.” On that basis, he said, the council could act to put the topic on an upcoming agenda.

Trocki agreed, and the councilors decided to discuss the bridge safety issue as part of the Nov. 18 meeting agenda.

The Prior family is suing the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority in connection with the accident.

In other business, the councilors agreed to discuss the concept of unified high schools on an upcoming agenda as an initiative to save money and improve education. The council did not discuss the issue but received correspondence advising them an exploratory committee is being formed following a vote by the Middletown Town Council asking its Newport County counterparts to do likewise.

According to a supporting memo to the Jamestown Town Council from Richard Adams and Barbara VonVillas, North Kingstown High students scored competitively on the SATs, but other schools in Newport County did poorly, despite high per-pupil costs and low student-teacher ratios. Newport’s Rogers High has the highest per-pupil cost, spending $18,732 per pupil, compared to $13,700 in North Kingstown and only $10,170 in Massachusetts.

Rogers High students also enjoyed the best student-teacher ratio, but turned in the lowest test scores in every category and registered the poorest four-year graduation rate. Only 73.5 percent of the Newport students graduated, compared to 88.6 percent at North Kingstown and 93.2 percent in Massachusetts. Only 27 percent of the Newport students scored at or above proficiency in the New England Common Assessment Plan math test, and only 29 percent made the grade in science. For math and science, respectively, North Kingstown students were 55- and 41-percent proficient, and Bay State students were 91- and 83-percent proficient.

Also, the councilors acted on all but one of the alcohol licenses and renewals advertised in the Jamestown Press. The exception was the Portuguese American Citizens Club, doing business as the Jamestown Bar and Grille. A decision to granting its licenses and renewals had to be postponed until a special meeting at 5 p.m. on Nov. 21 due to the town’s failure to notify abutters.

Finance Director Tina Collins, who is acting as the interim town administrator, blamed a clerical error for the town’s failure to send out notices to the abutters.

Finally, the council agreed to budget $3,700 for the Tick Task Force to pay for advertising and educational materials. Councilor Eugene Mihaly reported the board is moving ahead with its plans. However, one issue has arisen. Mihaly said he received a letter from Maureen Coleman, chairwoman of the Conservation Commission, cautioning the task force about use of pesticides on lawns.

Coleman indicated in her letter that the chemical permethrin, a pesticide used to combat ticks, was potentially harmful.

“There is evidence to the contrary,” Mihaly said.

The task force intends to provide the council with a “measured analysis” so it can decide on potential actions. Trocki suggested a meeting with the conservation commissioners.

“I don’t want to meet with them,” Mihaly said. “They need to determine whether [Coleman’s] comments are the policy they want to propose. It is really a matter of divided scientific opinion and there’s not that much to discuss.”

Coleman was at the meeting, and Trocki later apologized for not recognizing her. At Trocki’s request, Coleman agreed the conservation commissioners will meet Nov. 12 at 7 p.m., instead of 6 p.m., to present the workshop on plans for the trail restoration at Hull Cove. The time is being changed to allow Councilor Thomas Tighe to attend.

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