Sousa, Reitsma face off at Tiverton budget meeting

Trigger is deteriorating Riverside Drive seawall

By Tom Killin Dalglish
Posted 1/31/19

TIVERTON —A discussion at last Thursday's Tiverton budget committee meeting about the seawall along Riverside Drive triggered a confrontation between budget committee member Joe Sousa and Town Administrator Jan Reitsma, that caused Mr. Reitsma briefly to leave the table and stride away from the meeting in anger, briefing materials in hand.

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Sousa, Reitsma face off at Tiverton budget meeting

Trigger is deteriorating Riverside Drive seawall

Posted

TIVERTON —A discussion at last Thursday's budget committee meeting about the seawall along Riverside Drive triggered a confrontation between budget committee member Joe Sousa and Town Administrator Jan Reitsma, that caused Mr. Reitsma briefly to leave the table and stride away from the meeting in anger, briefing materials in hand.

It happened about an hour and ten minutes into the meeting, at which Mr. Reitsma, with Department of Public Works (DPW) Director Dick Rogers, were presenting the DPW budget, at a point when the discussion was transitioning from paving to a new budget item dealing with seawalls.

Mr. Sousa, who had been taking an active role in committee discussions dealing with paving, crack sealing in parking lots, paving and the school department, Bay Street sewers, as well as costs involved and who was responsible, turned his attention to seawalls.

"The only other thing I have is, I'm trying to figure out where there that seawall is," said Mr. Sousa.

A woman replied: "We just told you where the seawall is ... down Riverside."

"Well, okay, where on Riverside?” asked Mr. Sousa.

"Where it goes by the tracks. This is ridiculous," the woman said.

Mr. Reitsma stepped in. "Let me explain again, this is a new item or a new topic being raised. The seawall is almost like a symbolic thing, because I'm concerned there may be sections of existing seawalls that are not going to last very long, and therefore we're going to lose either road infrastructure or even private property."

"I'm just wondering where they are, though," said Mr. Sousa. "That's what I'm looking for, what, so I can go and look and see what you're talking about."

Woman: "Rick, can you tell him where those are please, can you tell Joe where it is that we saw the seawall?"

"They're all along the waterfront is what I'm saying," said Mr. Reitsma.

Mr. Sousa and Mr. Reitsma began talking over each other.

"Can you let me talk?" Mr. Reitsma asked and began to gather his notebooks and rose to leave).

Mr. Sousa: "Well, I don't know if you know that part of that road is a state road. Did you know that?"

Mr. Reitsma: "If you'd keep your mouth shut for a little bit so I can say something."

Mr. Sousa: "You should have had this in front of us already."

At this point Mr Reitsma walked away from the meeting back towards his office, as voices implore him not to leave, and to come back. Which he did.

"Will you stop? Will you stop?" Mr. Reitsma asked Mr. Sousa, as he returns to the meeting table. "Otherwise I can't do what I'm supposed to do."

"Okay, okay, I'm sorry, " said Mr. Sousa.

At this point, Jeff Caron, committee chairman, resumed control of the meeting, and Mr. Reitsma proceeded with his briefing.

"The seawall generally is okay, but there are areas where it's not," he said.

The discussion that followed morphed from a focus on Riverside Drive, the seawall that shields it and whether they can be saved, to a larger question.

"This is a community decision as to what you wish to do with rich waterfront areas," said Mr. Reitsma, "given the fact that there is a threat to those areas. What are the priorities where you can do something cost effectively, and where do you maybe need to consider what they call retreat, let it go."

"That's hugely controversial," he said, "because the people who live there may have a very different opinion than the people who live on the other side of Tiverton. So it's not something we're going to resolve here, but we do need to get a handle on it."

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