2018-02-22 / Front Page

Move to open Dutch Island still facing hurdles

BY TIM RIEL


This picture was taken before the Army Corps of Engineers installed barricade railing around the Fort Gould bunkers on Dutch Island. This picture was taken before the Army Corps of Engineers installed barricade railing around the Fort Gould bunkers on Dutch Island. Jump-started by a suggestion from Councilman Gene Mihaly, the town is moving forward with its plan to open Dutch Island in collaboration with the state.

Despite enthusiasm from both sides, however, the financial specifics remain blurred, especially with Smith Hill’s ongoing budget woes.

“The state is excited about the opportunity to open it up,” Town Administrator Andy Nota said, “but I don’t think they’re excited about the investment it’s going to take.”

Nota and Police Chief Ed Mello met with Dean Hoxie, head of law enforcement for the Department of Environmental Management, to discuss the 103-acre island that sits 2,000 feet northwest of the Fort Getty pier. Closed to visitors since 1990, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2014 began mitigating safety concerns with the abandoned military structures, which comprised Fort Greble until the end of World War II. Workers sealed coal bunkers, removed storage tanks and installed 2,600 feet of barricade railing.

With those renovations complete, the councilors in December directed Nota to check the state’s temperature on opening the island to the public, with the possibility of boat ramps, marked trails and campgrounds. Although the island is part of Jamestown, the entire parcel is under control of the Department of Environmental Management. Moreover, when the federal government sold the land to Rhode Island in the mid- 20th century, there was an agreement to protect the island as a conservation habitat for wildlife and migratory birds.

While the state and town agree on a basic concept, there is some distance between them concerning logistics, Mello said. So far, the sides have settled on three objectives.

First, they want to maintain the trails so they don’t become overgrown. Although town staff likely will be responsible for the brunt of the maintenance, Mello expects the sides to partner on a management plan for the trail system.

Second, they want to open the land to deer hunting. According to Nota, there has been no census of the deer herd since the Army began its work. Because there’s likely to be a healthy population, Nota expects the threat of deer ticks and Lyme disease to be high, which leads to the third objective, which is to erect signs along the trails. They would notify hikers about the risk of ticks, similar to the warnings at Beavertail State Park.

Also like Beavertail, Mello said hunting on Dutch Island likely would be strictly regulated if it were reopened. The cooperative program at Beavertail only allows archery. Also, hunters must pass proficiency testing and need signed permission from the police department. Finally, only 10 hunters are allowed per day at Beavertail.

“We talked about a formulated plan,” Mello said. “Perhaps on a limited basis.”

While nothing is official, Nota said he would contact state environmental director Janet Coit about co-developing a management plan.

“We want to be involved as an active participant at the table,” he said.

“We’re excited and want to partner,” said Kristine Trocki, council president. “That’s something that we feel strongly about.”

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