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Prudence Island in the spotlight at special Town Council meeting

Islanders hear updates on internet, ferry, boat ramp repairs and more

By Jim McGaw
Posted 10/20/20

PRUDENCE ISLAND — Residents on the east side of Prudence Island should expect vastly improved internet service by Jan. 1, 2021, the Town Council was informed Saturday morning.

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Prudence Island in the spotlight at special Town Council meeting

Islanders hear updates on internet, ferry, boat ramp repairs and more


PRUDENCE ISLAND — Residents on the east side of Prudence Island should expect vastly improved internet service by Jan. 1, 2021, the Town Council was informed Saturday morning.

The council received the update from  Art Shenberger of American Broadband during its annual meeting focusing on issues impacting Prudence Island residents. Normally, council members and town staff take a boat ride to greet islanders personally, but the meeting had to be held remotely — like all others for the past seven months — due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr. Shenberger, whose Bristol-based company has brought high-speed internet access to more than 50 homes on Prudence since March, received council approval in July to expand service further by locating a  70-foot, free-standing antenna tower on town-owned land at the northwest corner of the transfer station on Hedly Street. 

A formal contract with the town, approved in September, calls for American Broadband to lease the land for $1 per year and build the tower at no cost to the town.

Currently, the island has broadband coverage from the northwest side of the island at Rossi’s down the east side of Prudence to Sandy Point, where the lighthouse is located. However, some spots are unable to see American Broadband’s Bristol access point at 400 Metacom Ave. due to elevation, trees or homes blocking the signal.

On Saturday, Mr. Shenberger said the tower has been ordered and is being built. It is expected to be delivered by the end of November, and its base will be installed after that, he said. Jan. 1 is the realistic expectation for the island’s east side to have service, he said.

Another tower, for the west side of Prudence Island, is being delivered this week, Mr. Shenberger said. That tower will provide high-speed service on Bay, Providence, Francis, Concord and Atlantic avenues, as well as parts of Broadway, he said.

In addition, Mr. Shenberger said he has proposed installing a tower behind the Prudence Island School that would link to the tower on the west side.

Among the areas on Prudence that still need coverage, Mr Shenberger said, are Daniel Avenue, the top of Pier Road, and Sunset Hill Avenue. While he couldn’t predict when those areas will be serviced, residents will be informed as soon as possible, he said.

Island resident Ed “Hap” Aldrich, who started pushing the town several years ago for help in bringing reliable high-speed internet service to Prudence, praised the work Mr. Shenberger has done so far. He said his own high-speed internet service has been “flawless.”

Ferry update

The Covid-19 guidelines for the Prudence Island Ferry that have been in effect since March aren’t going away for the time being, a representative from A&R Marine told the council.

The restrictions, which limit passenger capacity is 50 to 60 percent during fair weather (90 passengers) and 30 to 40 percent during inclement weather (60 passengers), has caused headaches for some users, especially those who don’t have a reservation in advance.

Ethan Rossi said the ferry company has reached out to the R.I. Department of Health, but “there was no budging there; I don’t see that being resolved soon.”

He said the company has asked passengers to make reservations at least one week in advance. The capacity restriction should not be as pressing an issue now since fewer residents are on the island this time of year, he said.

Mr. Aldrich said the restrictions, which mean only six to 10 people can be in the main cabin at one time, is especially frustrating for residents who need to get off the island for medical issues.

“This is not an A&R issue,” Mr. Aldrich added. “Their hands are tied.”

National Grid update

Jacques Alfonso, National Grid’s community and customer manager for Rhode Island, gave an update on the company’s recent utility work on the island.

In 2018, islanders expressed concerns about the pole line along Nag Pond, he said. National Grid is looking into replacing the line, going around Narragansett Avenue and Neck Farm Road, and has coordinated efforts with the Prudence Island Conservancy, Mr. Alfonso said. An updated design is ready to be sent to the Conservancy for a relocation in the near future, he said.

Patricia Rossi, of Neck Farm Road, said she doesn’t understand why this project hasn’t started yet. Survey markers have since been mowed over and washed away by tides, she said. Full-time islanders like herself rely on energy for heating and water, she said.

“I just don’t understand why it’s taken so long,” Ms. Rossi said.

Mr. Alfonso said he had also hoped the project could have been completed earlier, but the planning, paperwork, and acquiring easements from property owners takes time, he said. “It is one of our priorities to get done,” he said.

Two years ago, islanders also complained about reliability issues on the northern part of Prudence. Mr. Alfonso said the problem was fixed in the fall of 2018, but National Grid started receiving more calls about the issue this summer.

The utility now plans to install a three-phase voltage regulator on Oct. 26 that should improvement reliability. National Grid will have to re-assess the situation next summer, Mr. Alfonso said.

Ms. Rossi said the three-phase system is particularly important for residents who are looking for green energy options. “Three phase would be used up there especially if you’re looking at solar panels, wind turbines, because we’re all trying to lower our (carbon) footprint,” she said.

Boat ramp repairs

Brian Woodhead, director of the Department of Public Works (DPW), presented an update on boat ramp repairs on the island.

The town went out to bid in July for repairs to Sand Point Dock and an awarded a contract in August to Heaton Construction, Mr. Woodhead said. The plans call for a 40-foot floating dock. The job should be completed by January 2021, he said.

The DPW also inspected the ramp at Homestead, but other than some cracks on the slab, no major issues were found. “At this point, there are no plans for replacement of this ramp,” Mr. Woodhead said.

Mr. Aldrich cautioned that “a lot of the conclusions are going to depend on the tide and when you look at it,” adding that some of the ramp’s lower end has broken away. “If you’re trying to haul a boat or retrieve a boat at low tide, it’s a bit of a challenge.”

Mr. Woodhead thanked Mr. Aldrich for his input and said his department will take another look during a moon low tide.

Bad roads

DPW also agreed to take a look at the condition of some roads on the island after hearing from Teresa Charest, of Daniel Avenue. She said the condition of Holbrook Avenue, Alice Street and Harriett Avenue were “absolutely atrocious,” especially after heavy rains.

“I’ve actually seen kids try to ride their bicycles down these streets and I fear for their safety,” Ms. Charest said.

Mr. Woodhead said Broadway and Narragansett have been accepted by the Town of Portsmouth, but the others “are not our roadways. We try to do the best we can with what we have.”

However, he agreed to take a look and urged islanders to call his department at 401/683-0362 to stay in the loop.

Future meetings

The council will meet on the following Mondays at 7 p.m.: Oct. 26, Nov. 9, and Nov. 23.

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.