2011-07-07 / Front Page

Fort Getty gets a sailing school

By Phil Zahodiakin

The Town Council this week approved a new, if modest and time-limited, use of Fort Getty, the first such decision that a council has reached in the decades of debate on the future of the town’s park.

The use is a sailing school, which is already in operation elsewhere on the island. Nevertheless, the council’s decision could be viewed as a milestone in the many years of attempts to implement the Fort Getty Master Plan.

The council, which met on July 5, also adopted amendments to the onsite wastewater regulations in the Town Ordinance. The ordinance amendments have been in the works for some time. The proposal to relocate the sailing school from East Ferry to a small plot of land near the Fort Getty boat ramp, along with the council’s endorsement of the idea, was a surprise.

The East Ferry sailing school is free of charge. It is “based” at East Ferry’s touch-and-go dock, and operated by the Conanicut Island Sailing Foundation. The foundation’s proposal to re-locate the school was first offered in a June 27 letter to Town Administrator Bruce Keiser from CISF Executive Director Meg Myles and CISF President Hannah Swett.

Keiser said the proposal “is a great idea.” Alluding to the seasonal campers whose presence conflicts with some of the proposed uses – particularly “open space and passive recreation” – supported by some of the town’s residents, councilor Mike White said the school “is a perfect opportunity to add a function to Fort Getty and not throw everybody out.”

“We’re looking to start small and this would be the first step in a five-to-10-year project,” said Myles, who participated in the 2004 Athens Olympics in single handed events. (CISF President Swett is a former Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year.) Myles added that “we would eventually like to see all of the students in Jamestown go through a sailing program.”

According to the proposal, “CISF will provide two boats and two instructors, one of whom will always be Level 1 certified to take Jamestown residents sailing, while instructing them as to the basics of small- boat sailing. Boats and instructors [would] be at the Fort Getty boat ramp Wednesday evening from 5 to 7 between July 6 and Aug. 17.”

Myles told the councilors that CISF also envisions holding “sailing awareness fun days, with boats to rent out. We would do more if we had some sort of security.”

Myles’ mention of a “fence” raised red flags for councilor Bill Murphy, who inferred that the installation of a fence would force the town to incur a charge, and “I don’t think the town should spend money on an enterprise operation. Once you put up a fence you’re opening a can of worms by exposing the town to liability issues.” In response, Myles offered a solution to the liability issue by pointing out that CISF could lease the little parcel of land identifi ed for boat storage for $1 per year.

Council President Mike Schnack told Myles, “I see this as a one-time pilot project for just this year to see if it’s viable. I wouldn’t want to guarantee it beyond a year, and it would be up to you to put up a temporary fence for the boats or valuables. I could support the proposal as a one-year trial, but your grand scheme [to bring in Jamestown students for a formal program] belongs in the workshop discussion.”

Schnack was referring to Monday’s workshop on the options for Fort Getty. The workshop was postponed last month, and has been rescheduled for July 11 at 6 p.m.

(Coincidentally, tonight’s Charter Review Commission meeting was also re-scheduled for that day and time, and it remains to be seen if the charter review meeting won’t be postponed, again, to prevent Schnack – who serves as liaison to the charter panel – from missing that meeting.)

Councilor Bob Bowen said that the sailing school proposal should be “part of the broader picture” for Fort Getty, and that it would be best addressed during the Fort Getty workshop. But a majority of the councilors were inclined to adopt the proposal then and there. “I think it’s a good idea,” said Murphy, who offered the motion to adopt the proposal.

Schnack said CISF would have to work out an arrangement with the Parks and Recreation Department to provide participants and instructors with day passes to the park.

Another significant decision reached by the council was its adoption of amendments to Chapter 74 of the Code of Ordinances. This section of the code sets the minimum state Department of Environmental Management standards for the location, design, construction and maintenance of onsite wastewater treatment systems.

Town Geographic Information System Coordinator Justin Jobin said that, as of March, the number of sub-standard septic systems in Jamestown was 68, and “today it’s 66. Ten others are going through some level of permitting activity. But the number [of sub-standard systems] is dropping.

Bowen asked, “How do you locate sub-standard systems?” Jobin replied, “Through our inspection program or phone calls. We open up the tanks during routine inspections every five years, and most mortgage companies require an inspection whenever a real estate transfer occurs.”

Among other changes, the ordinance provides greater detail for the definitions of a “failed on-site wastewater treatment system” (Section 74-224) and a “substandard system” (Section 74-279).

The amendments require replacement of any substandard system located within 200 feet “of the inland edge of shoreline features bordering tidal waters.” The replacement requirement also applies to substandard systems located within DEM’s defined, wellhead protection areas and 200 feet of freshwater surface waters.

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