WESTERLY — Members of a decades-old fishing club are calling for the town to leave several parking spaces that allow for access to the coast in Weekapaug alone.
The coveted spaces, about 14 in total, are toward the end of Spray Rock Road, near the Weekapaug Inn Beach boardwalk and an entrance to the Weekapaug Fire District beach. A public right of way or path to the coast is in the same vicinity.
On the Fourth of July, a guest of a member of the Rhode Island Mobile Sportfishermen received a $75 ticket for parking in one of the spaces.
In early June, without public discussion or establishment of an ordinance, town officials erected signs that stated the spaces could only be used by residents who possessed a town-issued parking pass. Confusingly, the signs referred to the town's Larkin Road parking passes. When asked, Police Chief Shawn Lacey acknowledged police could not enforce the parking pass policy unless it was established by ordinance.
After hearing from the state Coastal Resources Management Council, the agency in charge of ensuring access to the coast, Town Manager J. Mark Rooney told the Town Council the signs would be removed and proposed an ordinance allowing residents and non-residents to use the parking spaces and establishing a three-hour parking time limit. A public hearing on the proposed ordinance is scheduled for July 20.
Members of the Rhode Island Mobile Sportfishermen plan to speak out in opposition to the proposed ordinance.
"That has been public parking, with no time limit, forever," said Jim Milardo, a member of the club, during a recent interview.
Members of the club park in the spots and then walk the length of the adjacent sand trail to go fishing, said Milardo, who has been a member of the club since 1985. Fishermen with state-issued permits can drive on the beach but not during the summer.
"There can't be a time limit. It's a 1.5-mile walk to get out there. With a three-hour limit you'd have to turn around and go back as soon as you got out there," Milardo said.
The club, which was established in 1958, has fought to retain access for fishing in the area for decades, Milardo said. In 1997 the town and the Weekapaug Fire District entered into a court-sanctioned consent agreement that gave the public the right to walk on the sand trail and to drive on it for fishing purposes from Labor Day to Memorial Day. The same agreement established the fire district as the owner of the sand trail.
Club members use the sand trail to access fishing and clamming areas the club owns along Quonochontaug Pond.
Milardo said club members have spoken with state officials about the new signs and the parking time limit imposed by the town.
"We were told the signs are illegal," Milardo said.