PORTSMOUTH — Vicky Newbold has lived in the shadows of the Sakonnet River Bridge her entire life, in the home her grandparents built around 1900.
“A town is only as strong as its neighborhoods and this is a very close-knit community of people, some of whom have been here for generations,” she said of the lower Hummocks, where homeowners live below and on either side of both the new and old Sakonnet bridges. “I have neighbors who watched me grow up and watched my children grow up, and to me that’s what a neighborhood should be.”
But now the neighborhood is full of disrespectful strangers, Ms. Newbold said, thanks to what she describes as a “free public park” installed by the state directly under the bridges. Unwelcome visitors — almost all vehicles bear Massachusetts license plates, she said — park in new designated spots for hours, leave behind trash and trespass through her property. The state has not limited the hours that a person can park, nor has it provided any trash cans, she said.
“Any community watch thing you go to, or any police community training, the first thing they will tell you is be aware of strangers in your neighborhood,” Ms. Newbold said Tuesday morning outside her home. “The state’s created a situation where they are welcoming nothing but strangers into our neighborhood, and they don’t have any respect for anything. They throw their trash, they don’t respect private property.”
In fact, she said, the lone state sign in the area includes a map that directs visitors across her property, which extends down to the water on the south side of the railroad tracks. One time, she said, a man parked his car in front of a neighbor’s driveway.
Most people come to fish — heaping mounds of trash can be found all around the area, especially at the end of the railroad tracks — but other visitors have spent the day swimming, she said.
“They bring inflatable rafts, which I personally think is a very dangerous thing to have down there because there’s a very strong current,” she said. “They bring down their whole family — three and four generations. There are carloads of them. They come with coolers and they spend the whole day. There are no sanitary facilities here. It’s not designed to be a park. Water access is great, and when little Freddy Fisherman wanted to come down with his kid, walk down and fish for a couple of hours, that’s fine. But that’s not what’s going on.”
And at night, the area is dark and secluded. “There also needs to be some lighting down here. At night, yeah, the bridge is lit up, but right under here is just pitch black. Anything could be going on in this corridor and you’d never know,” said Ms. Newbold. “There are people who come down and they’re drinking and God knows what.”
Another concern she has is that in the past month or so, the state placed large boulders and orange-and-white barrels at the end of Riverside Avenue, blocking access to the muddy area directly under the bridges. Ms. Newbold believes the state may be trying to keep people from parking in the area — vehicles have been known to get stuck when the tide is high — but wondered whether the blockage will make it more difficult for a rescue boat to be launched from the beach.
Deputy Fire Chief Michael O’Brien, however, said blocking off that road doesn’t affect the department’s operations. “We wouldn’t launch from there. We launch from Stone Bridge,” he said, adding that there are other spots along the Sakonnet River where a rescue boat can go in.
Town to respond
Ms. Newbold brought her concerns — and a petition signed by more than a dozen Hummocks residents — to the Town Council Monday night.
Town Administrator John Klimm said the town is aware of the problem and had already expressed its concern to state officials. The council voted unanimously to direct Mr. Klimm to draft a letter of resolution from the panel to be sent to the state.
Ms. Newbold said her own efforts in complaining to the state have been fruitless.
“The last time I contacted Providence and explained where I lived, the woman said, ‘Do you live on a houseboat?’ and I said no. Then she said, ‘Well, isn’t there water under the bridge?'”
Lower Hummocks residents have been patient during the disruptive construction of the new bridge and deserve better than having their neighborhood overrun with out-of-towners and trash that’s attracting rats and other animals, she said.
“The state comes in and does whatever it wants without discussing it with the people who live here and pay taxes here,” said Ms. Newbold, adding that she feels that the state has taken the neighborhood over.
“Not only has the state taken it over, they gave it away to Massachusetts.”
Asked to respond to neighbors’ complaints, an e-mailed message from RIDOT Wednesday indicated that the area had been restored to its condition prior to bridge construction.
“While the road was repaved, we did not establish any new facilities; that work is taking place at the new boat ramp on the Tiverton shore,” stated Rosamaria Amoros, chief public affairs officer for RIDOT. “Because the project is wrapping up in this area, we realize that people might be returning to what has been a popular fishing spot in the past. Maintenance crews will be onsite this week to clean up the existing debris.”