WESTERLY — Supporters of the town's skateboard park hope a proposed ordinance that would codify rules for users of the facility will make it safer.
The Town Council is scheduled to conduct a public hearing on the ordinance during a meeting scheduled for Monday at 6 p.m.
"It's a good idea because the ordinance would codify the rules. Many times the rules are not enforced and police can't enforce them. By putting the rules in an ordinance they will be enforced," said Philip Overton, a former member of the Town Council.
Overton served as an unofficial spokesman for supporters of the park in 2002 when it had fallen into disrepair. They succeeded in leveraging a grant from the state and funds from the Town Council to reconstruct the park, substituting its wood with concrete. It is part of the Gingerella Sports Complex.
During a recent appearance before the Town Council, Overton asked for consideration of the proposed ordinance, which he said was provoked by bicyclists who have been using the skateboard park despite a rule prohibiting bikes. The park exists to provide a safe alternative for skateboarders to use rather than streets, sidewalks and parking lots. Overton said he knows well the need for safe places to skateboard.
"There can be more injuries when kids skateboard in parking lots or on roads. I know that firsthand because my son was killed in a skateboard accident when he was hit by a car on a road many years ago," Overton said. His son, Derik, died at the age of 17 in 1997.
The proposed ordinance has the support of the Board of Recreation, according to Paul Duffy, Recreation Department director.
Mike Ruisi, a longtime user and supporter of the park, said Friday that the ordinance proposal was sparked by a recent encounter between a bicyclist and a skateboarder. The bicyclist refused to leave the park, Ruisi said.
The mixture of skateboarders and BMX (bicycle motocross) is a bad one, Ruisi said because bicyclists can lose control, creating a hazard for skateboarders and potentially damaging the surfaces at the park.
Ruisi, 56, is the skateboard park's unofficial groundskeeper. He was a skateboard enthusiast as a young adult but stopped after an injury. When he returned to skateboarding it was as a form of rehabilitation and he continues to use the park almost daily. "As long as there's no snow or rain it's used every day, even on the coldest days," he said.
The council will also discuss a request from the Rhode Island Airport Corporation to join its defense against a lawsuit filed on behalf of residents who say the corporation improperly tried to take airspace easements on their land. RIAC, which manages Westerly State Airport, is also seeking the town's support and help in engaging stakeholders and the community as it embarks on development of a strategic business plan.
Also on the council's agenda is a request for $119,000 in town funds that would be used to fulfill part of a match required by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The corps is working with the state Coastal Resources Management Council on a plan to dredge Winnapaug Pond. The funds would be taken from an account previously established for dredge work at the pond.