The state’s Economic Development Corporation has awarded Jamestown $111,775 in support of the final studies necessary to determine if a Taylor Point wind turbine would be economically viable for Jamestown.
Town Administrator Bruce Keiser announced the grant during this week’s council meeting, which included indications that the councilors intend to usher along another long-standing initiative – Fort Getty Master Plan implementation – as well.
The council met on Nov. 7. The agenda encompassed a recycling work session and a public hearing on the harbor ordinance, resulting in marathon, five-hour meeting. The turbine update and ensuing discussion, however, was relatively brief.
The EDC grant is all that remains of the original $750,000 in American Recovery and Reinvestment Grant money awarded to Jamestown last year. The Department of Energy withdrew the grant, which was sourced from President Obama’s stimulus program, when it became clear that Jamestown would fail to meet the department’s March 2012 deadline to put up a turbine. DOE, however, decided to make some of the funding available once again, which led to the EDC solicitation for grant requests.
Although the funding awarded to Jamestown is just a sliver of the original grant, Keiser pointed out that the town received 100 percent of its request – an obvious sign, he said, that the state Department of Energy Resources (which funneled the federal money through the EDC) “remains strongly supportive of our efforts to assess the will not be allowed to use those funds for harbor projects unless a project has been identified in a fiveyear maintenance, replacement and improvement plan developed with the town engineer. Councilor Ellen Winsor, who voted against the administrator’s financing proposal, argued, “There needs to be a separation of power between the commission and the town. We need a division of intellect and focus.”
Commission Chairman Mike de Angeli argued that his proposal ensured that the commission would have the flexibility “to set priorities that aren’t town priorities.” Commission member Andrew Kallfelz added, moreover, that allowing the town to use mooring and leasing revenue for terrestrial priorities could eventually require the town to backfill the bucket of waterfront money. “It’s a risky move,” he warned, adding that the commission has already had to supplement its capital account with fee revenue. But Keiser and most of the council members pushed back.
Keiser acknowledged that, under his proposal, the council “would be regaining some of the responsibility it has ceded to the Harbor Commission over the last four or five years. But we wouldn’t be walking away from the waterfront. We would be more engaged than we have been.”
Councilor Bill Murphy argued, “We, as the council, should decide how the revenue from town-owned assets is spent.” And council President Mike Schnack pointed out that the revenue streams from Fort Getty and the golf course aren’t earmarked for maintenance and upgrades at those facilities, either. However, as result of that flexibility, said Councilor Bob Bowen, “you see what’s happened” to the infrastructure at those facilities.
Keiser didn’t dispute the necessity of funding waterfront maintenance. In fact, he said, “Our waterfront is a hugely valuable asset that needs to be maintained. However, [the administrator’s proposal] says you need a five-year plan – revised each year – and if there isn’t any plan, why would the Town Council dump $84,000 of revenue into a reserve fund for unnamed projects?”
Several aspects of the administrator’s language on mooring fees also sparked debate. Under his proposal, 100 percent of the mooring fees – which were raised earlier this year – would be deposited in the capital account, along with 50 percent of nonresident and commercial mooring fees. The administrator’s proposal also sought to limit resident mooring fees to “the average rate” charged by nine towns on Narragansett Bay.
Several councilors questioned the validity of comparing coastal towns to an island such as Jamestown, with Bowen arguing that the relatively high rate charged by Tiverton shouldn’t figure into the arithmetic because “they’re way up the bay.” Unable to agree on substitute language, the council proposed to change the administrator’s language to simply say, “Higher [mooring] fees may be charged [than those in the previous year].” The language passed by a 4-1 vote, with Winsor voting “no.”
During the public hearing preceding the votes, Kallfelz and Conanicut Marine Services President Bill Munger argued against an administrator proposal saying “nonresident and commercial fees shall be two times the resident mooring rate.”
Munger said the language strays from the Comprehensive Harbor Management Plan, which says that a future goal of the plan is “to distribute equitably the burdens and benefits of harbor management and development among commercial mooring operators, private mooring operators, [and] other groups.” Kallfelz said the rate differential should be “flexible” instead of “codified as double taxation.” The council didn’t vote on the differential, which has been in place as a policy for the last nine years, but the language was struck as part of the decision to adopt language saying mooring fees “may be higher” from year to year.
Another debate arose over differences in the language on mooring transfers. The commission proposed to allow mooring holders to transfer their moorings to a spouse, sibling or child; the administrator’s proposal was the same. However, questions about the wisdom of allowing transfers to children or siblings raised a number of red flags. Ultimately, the council decided to entertain a motion, which duplicates the “spouse, sibling or child” verbiage, but limits such transfers by adding language saying that a transfer from a mooring holder can only occur once. The motion passed unanimously.
The final motion, which was offered in support of the administrator’s proposal to require the commission’s annual submission of five-year plans, passed by a 5-1 vote, with Winsor voting “no.”
The proposed revisions to the Comprehensive Harbor Management Plan were not brought up for votes because some of the language requires updates. Once the text is cleaned up, the comprehensive plan will be placed on the agenda and undoubtedly passed without any of the controversy that swirled around the ordinance.