standing Westerly Town Hall

WESTERLY — Two-dozen rights of way that provide access to the shoreline have been surveyed and many cleared and marked with granite posts under a program directed by Town Manager J. Mark Rooney at the request of the Town Council.

The work was performed in conjunction with development of the municipal Harbor Management Plan. An interim version of the plan, mostly focused on moorings, was adopted by the council in 2018. The council thanked and praised Rooney Monday following his presentation on the work that was accomplished by a professional land surveyor and public works personnel with input from Lisa Pellegrini, director of Development Services, Julia Beasley, interim Recreation Department director, and Kimberlie Rayner-Russell, assistant harbormaster.

Rooney also reviewed four potential new sites around Winnapaug Pond that could be formally designated as municipal rights of way in the future. The four sites have been used historically but are not listed on town documents as designated rights of way.

Councilor Caswell Cooke Jr., who serves as executive director of the Misquamicut Business Association, said residents and business owners have asked for formal access points to the pond for decades.

"It's  something that people have really talked about since I started down at the beach more than 20 years ago, and it never happened," Cooke said.

One of the proposed new rights of way to the pond is at the end of Terrace Avenue, where Rooney said officials hope to create a launch area for small watercraft. The other three proposed sites are all off Atlantic Avenue.

Rooney also reviewed photographs of the 24 rights of way that were surveyed. The photographs depicted clearing and sturdy granite posts that officials are hopeful will mark the paths to the shoreline indefinitely and stop a pattern of rights of way becoming overgrown and their location and status as public unclear. Officials are also seeking permission and grants from the state to install kayak and canoe racks at some of the rights of way, Rooney said.

Pellegrini said officials hope a map depicting the rights of way can be added to the Harbor Management Plan."To make it easy for the public to just flip through the plan and see where the rights of way are," Pellegrini said.

Rooney assured residents that rights of way to the shoreline have been a priority in recent years but said the work is time-consuming.

"I would ask the public, again, for a little bit of patience ... we are, as the council has promised, moving on the rights of way. They have not fallen off ... the staff has worked on it. I want the public to understand that it's not that they were ignored," Rooney said.

Councilor Christopher Duhamel and other councilors joined with Cooke in praising Rooney's work.

"Mark is a great asset. He's really made this happen and he's calmed a lot of battles on this," Duhamel said.

Prior to Rooney's presentation, the council reviewed proposed language changes to some of the rights-of-way descriptions in the Harbor Management Plan. As part of the review, the council agreed to strike proposed language that would have stated that public parking would be added adjacent to the Waters Edge Road right of way in Watch Hill. Council President Sharon Ahern said the council had received numerous written comments critical of the proposed language on parking.

Residents and others who participated in the meeting remotely were critical of the decision, saying it was premature and that parking was needed at the right of way.

A lawyer for the Watch Hill Fire District and the Watch Hill Conservancy, Gerald Petros, questioned proposed new language in the plan related to Fort Road in Watch Hill. Petros said the road is not a public road and that a lawyer working for the town had previously reached the same conclusion. References to Fort Road as a right of way to the shoreline are unnecessary, Petros said, because the fire district and conservancy have demonstrated commitment to allowing public access to Napatree Point.

Anthony Palazzolo, who owns property in the town, asked the council to study the Fort Road question more closely and raised questions about the legal opinion cited by Petros.

Ahern asked residents and other interested citizens to submit comments to the council prior to Feb. 22 when she said the council would resume a workshop meeting on the rights of way section of the Harbor Management Plan.

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