RICHMOND — Members of the Town Council heard complaints from Down’s Court property owners at Tuesday’s council meeting about a town easement that has become a publicly-accessed recreation facility and an impediment to their quality of life.
The easement is intended to provide emergency responder access to the Pawcatuck River, but August and Linda Cote of 22 Down’s Court said people were using it to get to the river. The problem, they said, is that in order to reach the easement, people first have to make their way down a hazardous path on their property.
The Cotes said they were worried about what would happen if someone had an accident while using the path on their land.
“It’s very rocky, washes away in spots and is unsafe,” Linda Cote told the council. “Because of this, we felt we needed to protect ourselves and our property and we tried to obtain an umbrella insurance policy. We were turned down quite a few times because of the liability exposure due to the easement. We finally did obtain a policy and it’s come at an additional cost because of that easement.”
The Cotes and their neighbors, Laura and John Rieger, have been asking the town to clarify the easement and access issues for more than a decade. In addition to the liability issues, the homeowners have had problems with noise, parties and even vandalism.
“I dread the six months from April to the end of September every year, wondering is today going to be a nice quiet day,” Laura Rieger said. “I always, for the most part, let people go through. If they’re quiet, they don’t make a mess, I’ve had no problem with it…It’s the ones who break bottles down there, there’s foul language down there. They use it as a public bathroom.”
Council President Richard Nassaney said the issue had existed long before he was elected, but he promised to take a fresh look at the situation and convene a meeting of property owners and town officials to try to work out a solution.
“We have to look at things from both sides,” he said. “What is the right thing for public safety and the people who own the properties that are abutting it? That’s the right way to do it and the town is not going to drop this ball…We’re going to do this rather quickly so that this is not going to go on for another five years.”
Nassaney asked the Cotes and the Riegers to contact Town Planner Shaun Lacey, who will coordinate the scheduling of the meeting.
In other business, Department of Public Works Director Scott Barber warned the council that despite his department’s continuing effort to remove hundreds of trees killed by two summers of severe gypsy moth infestations, he did not feel that the town was keeping up with the problem.
The department’s $25,000 tree maintenance budget was increased by $10,000 this year, but that still won't be enough to take care of all the dead and hazardous trees. To make matters worse, Barber said that even as the town removes dead trees, more die and must be taken down.
“The dead tree issue is getting magnified in town,” Barber said. “Last year, we predicted that we would be getting the upper hand on it, hopefully by this winter, and throughout the year, we’ve continued to work on this problem and areas that we’ve already visited, we’re going back and we’re finding even more trees that are going to need attention,” he said.
After initially focusing on high population areas throughout Rhode Island, National Grid is expected to begin removing dead trees near Richmond power lines sometime in October and has already marked trees for cutting. But the utility will be focusing its efforts on trees that might fall on wires, leaving the town to deal with the rest.
“This problem is only going to continue to get worse for the next couple of years,” Barber said. “We’re going to see this mortality continue to rise. Look at James Trail. We took out more than 200 trees there to redo the road and you drive through there today and there’s probably another 100 trees that should be taken down.”