WESTERLY — Gov. Gina Raimondo, in an appearance Tuesday before the Misquamicut Business Association, pledged the continued cooperation of her administration in improving conditions at the popular seaside destination.
An audience of about 100 at the Windjammer listened as the governor, a Democrat, described the state's effort to assist with a trash problem that seemed to hit critical mass last summer.
"A year or two ago I came to talk to the MBA and it was a challenging discussion," she said, referring to last year's annual meeting. "You weren't happy with the trash situation and you weren't happy with the parking situation etc. and we listened, we took it seriously and we stepped forward to work with you in partnership to provide some solutions."
Last summer, a grass-roots cleanup group, the Misquamicut Waste Warriors, was formed to lend a hand. The MBA worked to get the word out about the trash problem, and Gov. Daniel J. McKee brokered a meeting of town, state and business leaders. The meeting hatched a temporary solution: two large receptacles, one for trash and one for recyclable items, were stationed at Misquamicut State Beach and monitored by the business association.
The receptacles are again in place for the current beach season, and Town Manager J. Mark Rooney has loaned two of the town's Big Belly solar trash compactors to the state for use at the beach. Raimondo promised that her administration and the state Department of Environmental Management would remain tuned into the needs of the Misquamicut area and asked for cooperation.
"Stay at the table. It's OK to be cranky but it's better to stay at the table and be part of the solution. We need actionable guidance ... you need to say 'This is what we think the solution would be, could you help us get there? And if you do that the answer from the state will be 'Yes, we're going to do our part to help you get there,'" Raimondo said.
The governor also reviewed other improvements at Misquamicut State Beach, the state's largest and busiest public beach. Salty’s Burgers and Seafood is operating concessions at the beach as well as at the Scarborough, Roger Wheeler, Salty Brine and East Matunuck state beaches, and is running a gift shop at the Misquamicut facility. The staff at the Misquamicut beach was increased by four workers to improve customer service and a new system aimed at keeping bathrooms and other amenities clean was established.
DEM also recently rolled out online sales of season passes for the first time at www.riparks.com.
"We're hoping it will cut down on lines at the beach," the governor said.
DEM has also hired an engineering firm to study traffic heading in and out of the beach with an eye toward eventual improvements, said Jennifer Ogren, DEM's assistant administrator for the Bureau of Natural Resources and Parks. Additionally, Ogren said the department is soliciting proposals from companies to improve parking at the state beaches, including a potential system for sending electronic messages when parking lots have reached capacity.
Caswell Cooke Jr., MBA executive director, asked Raimondo and McKee for their help with an effort to establish an eco-trail on state-owned land across from the state beach. The trail would be for walking, jogging and bicycling and would allow for views of Winnapaug Pond. McKee toured the potential trail area after the annual meeting.
Cooke also gave a brief overview of the association's work and recent achievements, including its ongoing trash cleanup and beautification efforts. The South County Tourism Council has purchased a shed to serve as a projection room for the association's popular drive-in movie series. The projector had previously been run out of the back of Cooke's vehicle.
McKee encouraged small business owners in Misquamicut and the rest of the town to stay in touch with his office, seek assistance when needed, and communicate ideas about new business opportunities.