standing Westerly Town Hall

WESTERLY — Ill-timed plumbing problems combined with unseasonably warm weather that drew big beach crowds produced an unpleasant result Sunday at the Town Beach — an overtaxed portable toilet.

Town officials had hoped to open the restrooms at the beach pavilion for the weekend even though the beach does not officially open until this coming weekend. A plumber checked to ensure the facilities were in good working order early last week and officials say they working on Thursday, but on Friday the toilets failed leaving just a single portable toilet in the beach parking lot.

"Just like anybody else we have plumbing problems that are out of our control," Town Manager J. Mark Rooney said.

Rooney said he was confident the restrooms would be operational by this weekend and additional portable toilets will be available if needed. The town does not usually staff the beach until the Thursday before Memorial Day, but Rooney said this year plans to start one day earlier on Wednesday.

One resident, Donald Liberatore, said the situation on Sunday was uncomfortable. A frequent visitor to the beach, Liberatore said he was there Sunday from about 2 to 5 p.m. when temperatures soared to the mid 80s at the beach and into the 90s in other parts of the  state.

"There had to be a thousand people there. Everyone's worried about contamination and bacteria and COVID and you've got one portable toilet," Liberatore said.

Liberatore said he spoke with an official with state Department of Health on Sunday and was told it was a town issue. He said he observed several people relieving themselves across the street from the beach when the portable toilet filled up.

Rooney said the situation was exacerbated by a private parking lot owner who opened their lot to paying customers but failed to unlock their portable toilets. The owner was referred to police, Rooney said, who are expected to review whether a town ordinance requiring toilets at parking lots was violated.

Town Councilor Karen Cioffi, who often visits the beach and keeps a close eye on its operations, said making all amenities available before Memorial Day weekend or after Labor Day weekend, the last weekend the beach is open is not possible under current conditions.

"We have tight budgets and have to adhere very closely to these timelines," Cioffi said.

Cioffi said she was aware of concerns similar to those raised by Liberatore.

"My response has been and will be that is how it is until we come to next weekend when it officially opens. The beach was not open and we understand it was a very warm weekend, especially yesterday, and people flocked to the beaches but since it's technically not open yet we are not staffed," Cioffi said.

Councilor Caswell Cooke Jr. said the situation points to a need to reconfigure the municipal beach season. While the beaches were accessible over the weekend they were not staffed with lifeguards, parking attendants, or other workers.

"I was kind of flabbergasted that we didn't have Wuskenau and the old Town Beach open yesterday. Over the weekend Wuskenau was completely packed. The town lost a lot of money by not being open. Memorial Day to Labor Day is out of date. We should be ready at least two weeks before Memorial Day and at lest two weeks after Labor Day," said Cooke, who works as executive director of the Misquamicut Business Association.

By delaying when paid parking at the Town Beach parking, which is open to residents who have parking passes, and Wuskenau Beach, which is also owned by the town but open to all who obtain a permit, the town effectively "under cuts" the private parking lot owners, Cooke said, and misses out on parking lot revenue.

Cooke said he was also concerned about a large volume of trash that he said was discarded over the weekends by beach-goers. Unlike past years, Cooke said there were plenty of receptacles available at the beaches and along Atlantic Avenue. Cooke said he hoped police could catch a few litterers in the act and issue citations.

"You can't come down here and trash our town, it's just not acceptable and we're not going to put up with it ... If people start to know that we are watching and that we are going to catch folks that are littering maybe they will stop," Cooke said.

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