Harbor officials to take over Gould Island efforts

The incinerator building on the west side of Gould Island.

The incinerator building on the west side of Gould Island.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to present its preliminary findings from an environmental risk assessment of Gould Island at 6 p.m. June 8 at Town Hall.

The restoration advisory board will meet to update the public about its cleanup of the former torpedo station on Gould, which is the smallest of three islands comprising Jamestown. Although the project began in 2017 to rehabilitate the southernmost 39 acres as a wildlife reserve — the northern 23 acres are owned and operated by the U.S. Navy — the scope has since been expanded to rehabilitate Gould into a suitable park for public recreation.

The southern 39 acres is maintained by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management as a sanctuary for migrating birds. A resolution by the town council, however, asks the state to split Gould into three sections. The Navy would continue to operate in the north, but the lower 39 acres would be reserved for wildlife (middle 22 acres) and public recreation (southern 17 acres).

In charge of shepherding this proposal was a municipal Gould Island committee founded in August 2021, separate from the advisory board, to collaborate with the congressional delegation, Army Corps and state. The panel, chaired by resident David Sommers, also solicited neighboring cities and towns to support a resolution that requested for the state to prepare a plan for public recreation on Gould Island. The resolution called for the plan to be developed for the 2023-24 fiscal year so the Army Corps would still be active on Gould and available for advice and support.

North Kingstown and Portsmouth approved the resolution; Newport and Middletown tabled it. Sommers said the local advocates should have done more to follow up and put pressure on the state, which said it did not have time to draft a plan for the 2023-24 budget.

“A group of volunteers can only take you so far,” he said. “We have a plan. But now we need action.”

Sommers said the next step is to disband the municipal Gould committee. Instead, the efforts will be led by Steven Bois, executive director of Jamestown’s harbor division. He already has visits planned this month with managers on Rose and Prudence islands to “understand what they have done” to create their recreational getaways.

Bois said he is calling on all outdoorsmen, including boaters, hikers, campers and cyclists, to join the cause by attending meetings with Gould Island on the agenda, including the town council, harbor commission and Army Corps. The waterfront board, he said, is expected to take over “the regulation and management” to develop a recreational plan for Gould.

“The best way to make this happen is by showing up and voicing your support that this does matter,” he said. “We also want other communities on the bay to articulate their interest.”

Because more support will mean more pressure on the state, and ultimately the congressional delegation to lobby for financial support, Bois will meet personally with policymakers in neighboring cities and towns to plead his case. The overarching plan is to add Dutch Island into the mix as Bois envisions an entire Narragansett Bay parks system. He also plans to meet with nongovernmental organizations like Save The Bay, the Audubon Society and leaders at the University of Rhode Island’s Bay Campus.

“We need to continue and grow support for the goals we have established,” he said. “That what we have planned for the summer. Hopefully by the fall we can meet with the federal delegation.”