Letter: Seapowet issue is about public access, not privilege

Posted 2/2/22

To the editor:

I was disappointed to read the Sakonnet Times January 27 issue that amplifies the Bowen’s characterization of those who oppose the proposed aquaculture lease near the Seapowet …

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Letter: Seapowet issue is about public access, not privilege

Posted

I was disappointed to read the Sakonnet Times January 27 issue that amplifies the Bowen’s characterization of those who oppose the proposed aquaculture lease near the Seapowet Bridge as “wealthy out-of-towners” versus “fourth generation locals.” This disparages the many folks, both in Tiverton and those in nearby underserved communities, who have enjoyed the use of the Seapowet beach and abutting wildlife and marsh areas for a variety of recreational activities for decades, and in some cases spanning generations of families. 

The Seapowet area provides free public access to the Sakonnet River for locals and those from nearby cities and towns. There is ample free parking, a no fee beach, and nature trails and revitalized marshlands to explore. Fishing and recreating opportunities abound. The vistas are wonderous.

Eliminating or limiting the public’s use of an area that has always been freely accessible for everyone simply because a group intends to exclusively exploit our waters for commercial purposes, violates the Public Trust guaranteed in Rhode Island’s Constitution. The guaranty provides for people to enjoy our waters for recreation and other activities, undisturbed by commercial interests.

In pushing their theme of class warfare and elitism, the Bowens fail to grasp that aquaculture development in Public Trust waters is not just a Tiverton issue. It is not personal and “us versus them”. Rather, it is a statewide issue that the RI political and regulatory apparatus is currently reviewing.

The Bowens are plain wrong to claim that the aquaculture regulatory process does not need change. Many statewide stakeholders, both waterside and inland, believe the process is fundamentally flawed and in need of revamping. The RI Legislature is also studying ways to reform the CRMC. And CRMC leadership has already admitted the process needs reform starting with the stakeholder notification process.

That is why over the past many months, the CRMC has sought to engage the public and stakeholders in discussing CRMC’s overall operation, public access to the water, aquaculture development, and a host of other issues through its Bay SAMP initiative. One hopeful outcome of this initiative is to be able to designate areas for productive aquaculture operations that would not prevent or significantly impair the public’s access, use and enjoyment of Public Trust waters. That is also why Rep. Ruggiero, Chair of the Special Legislative Committee tasked with reviewing CRMC’s current operations, has been holding statewide hearings with various stakeholders and the public to determine whether CRMC needs wholesale reorganization.

The Bowens have never been in touch with those of us who oppose this lease. Instead, the Bowens try to lump us all together as rich invaders crowding out the locals who cannot compete for hearth and home. Unlike the Bowens, we are not fourth generation locals who feel entitled to do what’s only in our best interests for using the public waters of Seapowet.

You don’t know my life story or the life stories of any of your purported opposition. The truth is, we come from many different backgrounds. Some live in Tiverton year-round, and some, like my family, summer here. Most of us do not own waterfront property. We all, I dare say, worked or continue to work very hard in our jobs and careers. From our hard work, many of us have also realized good fortune, and we try our best to pay that good fortune forward. Some are new to our Farm Coast community, and still many others have called Tiverton home for generations.

We are different, but we are all united in our desire to keep Tiverton and its coastal waters accessible and available to all.

Donald Libbey
Tiverton

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