2013-12-26 / Front Page

2013 year in review

From boardwalk to bridge barrier, projects are pending
By Tim Riel

As we get ready to enter the New Year, Jamestowners should expect a lot of the same in 2014: “Project Pending” should have been the theme of 2013.

While there was no shortage of divisive headlines to grace our front pages, those same banners will no doubt reappear in the New Year – most likely sooner than later.

Whether to build (boardwalk, multicultural center, median) or not to build (Shoreby Hill moratorium), to cull (deer herd) or to toll (Sakonnet River Bridge), important decisions are on the horizon for the upcoming year.

Multicultural center

It was in February when Town Administrator Bruce Keiser told the Town Council the second floor of the clubhouse at the Jamestown Golf Course was going to be closed to the public – permanently.

While the councilors made no fuss agreeing a new clubhouse was needed, a stir was caused when architect Bill Burgin unveiled the estimates at an October workshop. His report included an option to build a multicultural center alongside the clubhouse, increasing the $2.2 million estimate nearly 75 percent to $3.7 million.

Prior to the workshop, it was supporters of the performing arts who made their voices heard. Following Burgin’s proposal, however, it was the golfers who took exception to the plans.

As it stands now, first-year Town Administrator Kevin Paicos suggested taking a step back so the council could get a better grasp on the impact arts and culture has on the community.

Where it stands? A report by consultants from the University of Massachusetts Edward J. Collins Center for Public Management is pending.

Boardwalk to Hull Cove

In the summer of 2012, vandals clear-cut the right-of-way that leads from Beavertail Road to Hull Cove. Because the trail is considered wetlands, the state has purview over it. And because the town couldn’t prove its suspect guilty of the infraction, the state’s coastal council ordered the town to pay for restoration.

That’s when an old plan resurfaced to build a raised boardwalk over the wetlands. At a joint workshop in November between the Town Council and Conservation Commission, a decision was made to solicit bids for a contractor that would complete the work. The town, however, made it clear that it had the right to axe the project.

Currently, abutters are stirring controversy over a litany of issues: litter, handicap accessibility, privacy, cost, liability.

Where it stands? The Conservation Commission agreed to listen to another round of complaints before it makes a final recommendation to the council.

Sakonnet tolling

The timeline for tolling on the state’s East Bay bridges is as long and bumpy as the Newport span itself. After the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority in April made the decision to toll the Sakonnet River Bridge comparable to the Pell span, East Bay lawmakers created a hullabaloo over the verdict. The decisive decision led to a lawsuit (the town of Portsmouth filed a lawsuit against the bridge authority) and vigilante justice (delinquents set fire to tolling equipment on the Sakonnet span).

To make everyone unsatisfied, the General Assembly decided in July to institute a 10-cent toll on the bridge until it could figure out what to do. The tax took effect in August and will limit any increase until April 2014.

Where it stands? A special legislative committee meets regularly at the State House and is expected to report its findings soon after the New Year.

Historic zoning

According to the neighborhood association, the majority of Lower Shoreby Hill homeowners are supportive of a zoning change to protect and preserve the area’s historic ambiance. The Planning Commission listened to the arguments for special zoning, and in June agreed with the neighborhood representatives and recommended the change.

The Town Council, however, wasn’t as easily swayed.

The proposal hit a snag when Councilor Mary Meagher at a September Town Council meeting referenced the Shoreby Hill entrance. Because the neighborhood is accessed by a private road, she said, Shoreby Hill could be closed to the public at any time. Therefore, how could the Town Council support the use of public funds to create special zoning for a private neighborhood?

“A historic district with private roads is almost a contradiction in terms,” Councilor Gene Mihaly said.

Where it stands? The neighborhood association will have to decide if it wants to open the road publicly. In the meantime, the council put a moratorium on any major repairs to homes in Lower Shoreby Hill.

Lyme disease

According to health and environmental professionals, Lyme disease is practically an epidemic in Jamestown. According to Dr. Tom Mather, aka the Tick Guy, the answer is fairly simple: No more deer, no more deer ticks, no more Lyme.

The town in the past has tried to combat Lyme disease, but each time interest waned. An ad hoc committee two years ago was created and charged with the task, but time passed the panel was never heard from again.

Until now, Councilor Gene Mihaly said.

Mihaly has spearheaded the Tick Task Force and promises to work diligently until a solution is found. He isn’t sure if Jamestown will have to follow Block Island’s lead and cull the overpopulated dear herd, but Mihaly says no options are off the table.

Where it stands? The Tick Task Force is sponsoring six symposia to educate the public on Lyme disease and the effect deer have on black-legged ticks, the main vector of Lyme. The panel is hoping to have a plan in place by early spring.

Median barrier

It has been more than two years since Kenneth Prior was killed in a head-on collision on the Newport Bridge. Since then, his brother, David, has made it his singular goal to compel the bridge authority into installing a median barrier on the span so no family has to deal with a similar loss.

Prior went as far as filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the state in October.

According to David Darlington of the bridge authority, the state since 2006 has been studying the issue of whether or not a median barrier is appropriate on the Pell Bridge. He said it’s a complicated issue that requires complex engineering studies. Prior disagrees, saying the authority has had more than enough time to address the issue.

Recently, the two parties saw eye-to-eye for the first time since the October 2011 tragedy. A preliminary report found that the Newport span could support a median barrier, and Darlington said he is also looking into ways to enforce the speed limit on the bridge. According to an accident investigation, the car responsible for the collision that killed Prior was traveling 62 mph. The speed limit on the span is 40 mph.

Where it stands? Darlington plans to have the final report by March. However, because repairs on the bridge would have to be made before a barrier could be installed, Darlington doesn’t expect any median until at least 2015.

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