Prudence residents to town: Pave Narragansett Avenue

Portsmouth resident Peter Roberts and Deputy Town Clerk Patti Cofield walk toward awaiting cars after the Fire Department’s boat brought them to Sand Point on Prudence Island from Carnegie Abbey Marina Saturday. Behind them is Town Council member David Gleason. Photo by Jim McGaw. Portsmouth resident Peter Roberts and Deputy Town Clerk Patti Cofield walk toward awaiting cars after the Fire Department’s boat brought them to Sand Point on Prudence Island from Carnegie Abbey Marina Saturday. Behind them is Town Council member David Gleason. Photo by Jim McGaw.

PRUDENCE ISLAND — Town officials on Saturday got an earful from Prudence Island residents regarding the condition of one of the island’s major roads.

The Town Council and several officials and department heads made their annual trip to the island to hear what was on the minds of Prudence residents, and the topic that generated the most discussion was Narragansett Avenue. The 2.6-mile road runs along the water on the island’s west side and is a bumpy ride, to say the least.

Cheryl Bator summered up the feelings of many in the audience when she urged the mainland visitors to spend more time on the island to see what the roads are like for themselves

“What do we get for our taxes over here? If you were over here, you would see how deplorable it is,” said Ms. Bator.

In the end, the town agreed to initiate a plan to repave the road, although Department of Public Works (DPW) director Dave Kehew cautioned that any work would have to be done in piecemeal over two or three years since the town has limited funds available to fix its worst roads.

Town officials did find themselves riding on Narragansett Avenue for a brief time Saturday. Three boats — including the town’s police and fire vessels — brought the delegation over to the island from Carnegie Abbey Marina as rain fell. After landing at the Sand Point dock on Prudence, several islanders gave officials rides via Narragansett Avenue to the Prudence Island Improvement Association Building, where more than 100 islanders gathered on a rainy day.

The repaving of Narragansett was put on the DPW’s road repair list five years ago and islanders — many of whom say Prudence’s roads are arguably the worst in the state — were looking for an update.

Mr. Kehew said he wanted to get a consensus from island residents on what to do, adding that it was his understanding there is a difference of opinion “between those who would like to see Narragansett paved and those who don’t want it paved for fear of traffic safety.”

If there were any islanders who want to leave the road be in order to slow drivers, however, only a few came out to Saturday’s meeting. A show of hands made it clear that the overwhelming majority of islanders who turned out wanted Narragansett paved. They also said the town should give priority to that road over Broadway, which runs east to west through the center of Prudence. Broadway was paved in 2004 but is now in poor shape, islanders said.

Mr. Kehew said the town used to allocate only about $156,000 on road repairs annually, but is now in the third year of a five-year program under which $1 million is being spent annually. Still, it’s not nearly enough money to fix all the roads that need repairs, he said.

“We have roads on Aquidneck Island that are in tougher shape than Narragansett Avenue. Not a lot, but there are some,” said Mr. Kehew, who noted it would cost about $260,000 just to reclaim Narragansett Avenue and put a base in. “If you take a million dollars and do the worst roads first, you’ll end up with fixing five roads.”

But several islanders said repaving Narragansett Avenue is long overdue.

Doug Brown, who lives on the west side of the island, took issue with Mr. Kehew’s statement about Aquidneck Island roads, saying both Narragansett Avenue and Broadway are in worse shape than any of those on the mainland.

“The roads are deplorable; they’re not safe. You can’t ride a bicycle on Broadway. The dust is a health hazard,” said Mr. Brown, whose comments were met with applause.

Dave Homan, who had requested the agenda item, agreed. “Narraganset was done in 1982 and since then it’s been 30 years of nothing but patch,” he said. “When I’m driving my vehicle and something’s coming the other way, I actually have to stop.”

Mr. Homan added that he often drives the ambulance for the island’s volunteer fire department. “I can’t imagine being inside the ambulance with a broken arm or hip and driving down Narragansett Avenue,” he said.

After more discussion, town officials agreed to give higher priority to Narragansett Avenue and come up with a plan for improvements starting next fiscal year, and to provide updates on progress.

“Right now we’re allocating $1 million a year,” said Council President James Seveney. “We have to take care of all the roads. We’ll do the best we can.”

Deer hunting proposal

In other business Saturday, the council voted unanimously to formally object to the R.I. Department of Environmental Management’s (DEM) proposal to extend the deer hunting season on Prudence Island.

DEM wants to change the start of the deer hunting season on the island from the current Nov. 1 to Sept. 15. At the time the agenda item was filed, a petition initiated by islander William Silvia had about 200 signatures from islanders opposed to the change.

“Hunting season significantly disrupts our lives on the island,” Mr. Silvia wrote in a July 29 letter to Gov. Lincoln Chafee that accompanied the petition. “We are all denied access to the state parks other than as hunters. We are unable to fish, shellfish, hike, bicycle or bird watch. Furthermore, the ability of residents to walk, or bicycle on the rest of the densely wooded island during the season is substantially limited because of hunting on some private land … We are used to it during the colder months, but to impose these conditions upon us during the wonderful months of the autumn is a travesty.”

Mr. Seveney asked for a show of hands on how those in attendance felt about the proposed change. Only a couple of people supported DEM’s proposal.

The council voted 6-0 to send a resolution to DEM in opposition to the proposed change in deer season. (Council member Michael Buddemeyer did not attend the meeting.)

Septic loan program

Islanders also asked for an update on the town’s program to offer low-interest loans to residents who need to replace or repair their failing septic systems.

Many in the audience applauded when Town Planner Gary Crosby announced that the program, which is being administered for the town by Rhode Island Housing, “will be open for business on Sept. 1.”

Under the program, the loan maximum is $25,000 with a term not to exceed 10 years with an interest rate of 5 percent, said Mr. Crosby, adding that homeowners’ applications will be approved on a “first-come, first-served basis.”

In an unrelated matter, Mr. Crosby also notified islanders that the town recently won a grant to install an emergency generator for the island’s water system, news that also drew applause.

Islanders also had a discussion with council members about ferry service, which included an update from new ferry provider A&R Marine Corp. We’ll post a separate story about that topic on Monday, Aug. 4.

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