DEM threatens Tiverton with lawsuit about fishing tourneys
TIVERTON — The Town Council Monday night postponed until May 28 consideration of a proposed town ordinance that would regulate fishing tournaments taking place on Stafford Pond.
Technically, the council continued until that date, a public hearing that it had began on the the measure at Monday night's meeting.
A second ordinance — one that would would limit parking on Old Stafford Road near the entrance to the boat ramp area operated on the pond by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) — passed the council by a unanimous vote.
The ordinance that was delayed would impose a $50 fee for tournaments, would require sanitary and trash facilities, and would require tournament participants to identify themselves and their boats, buy insurance, and contract for a police detail during the tournaments.
Five residents commented, all in support of the regulations, before the council swung in favor of putting off action.
One of the five was Tom Ramotowski, chairman of the Conservation Commission Commission, who said, "this pond is the only drinking water body that has a public boat ramp."
He said the "tournaments were an intensification of the use of Stafford Pond," and that the tournament participants "can fish elsewhere. They shouldn't be doing it on our pond." It is possible, he said, for them "to go elsewhere and not threaten our water supply."
Mr. Ramotowski also decried the lack of bathroom facilities, and said "nothing is set up to get rid of invasive species" that might be coming in with the boats.
Brian O'Neill, who lives by Stafford Pond and observed many tournaments last year, said "It's not uncommon seeing someone relieving themselves in the pond," and "it's a free-for-all. Like the wild west out there."
Councilor Jay Lambert was the first member of the council to speak. "The terms of the ordinances are sort of common sense and reasonable," he said. "I'm assuming there hasn't been any further discussion with DEM" after a first meeting with them, when a follow-up meeting had been promised.
He was referring to a meeting on February 28 between DEM, town officials, representatives from the Department of Health, and local legislators.
The council's hesitation, and Mr. Lambert's comment, came against the backdrop of a lawsuit threat from a DEM lawyer and concerns as to why DEM had not been willing to meet with town officials about the tournaments since February 28.
That meeting had came on the heels of a DEM announcement earlier in February that Stafford Pond would be the site for 16 bass fishing tournaments this spring and summer, an announcement made without any prior contact with any town officials.
The first of the tournaments took place on Sunday, April 21, with seven boats and fishermen participating. Two port-a-potties had been set up near the boat ramp, one of which was lying on its side when the tournament began.
Mr. Lambert said Monday that he wanted to make sure DEM is saying "no" to the ordinance "before we drop the gauntlet here and make some sort of compromise impossible."
Senator Walter Felag said he thought DEM had suggested another meeting. "I was sort of surprised," he said, "that the town was moving ahead without hearing from DEM." Did in fact those small meetings take place, he asked?
Town Solicitor Andrew Teitz said, "We've had no contact from DEM as to those meetings. I guess that's the problem."
He added that "We did receive a letter from legal counsel threatening litigation if we did proceed with the ordinance."
Council President Ed Roderick said, "I'm wholeheartedly behind this, but I think we do need to speak to DEM."
Then, turning to Mr. Felag, who had remained at the podium in front of the council, Mr. Roderick said, "I beseech you to intervene on the town's behalf." Mr. Roderick then said he preferred to wait until the town and DEM had had a chance to meet again, and suggested the May 28 date.
On the heels of his suggestion, Councilor Denise DeMedeiros asked aloud, "Did DEM threaten us?" And Mr. Teitz replied, "I would say they did threaten, yes."
Four all day fishing tournaments are scheduled for Stafford Pond between Monday night and the end of May, and six are scheduled for the pond in June.