NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The North Kingstown Town Council meeting ran all the way to its limit Monday night as they heard over five different presentations on a variety of topics, including a status update from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation on the three way intersection between Brown Street, Phillips Street and Boston Neck Road, the approval of blasting for dredging by the Quonset Development Corporation for General Dynamics/Electric Boat, upgrades to the playground at Wilson Park, a new software platform to view water usage and more during the three and a half hour long meeting held over Zoom.
In the most contentious vote of the evening, the Town Council narrowly approved a measure to allow the QDC to modify the dredging method to include the blasting of rock found in a portion of the approved dredge channel at General Dynamics/Electric Boat with five bullet points and recommendations made from different residents and town bodies included in the ordinance.
The QDC was asking for a 21-day blasting period, which McKay said did not mean 21 days of blasting but rather 20 days of preparation for the area and one day of blasting, which he expects to last for no more than 10 minutes. He said that while some residents raised concerns with the blasting, which is meant to expand the depth of the cove to allow for easier shipping of the submarines at Electric Boat to the company’s headquarters and main shipyard in Groton, Connecticut, alternative sites that were recommended were not chosen.
Some residents had brought up concerns to marine life, namely seals, who migrate through the channel around this time of year. McKay said that there will be four marine biologists on hand with the power to shut down both the blasting and the project at any time if there was any issue or potential violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Brimer said that while she is uncomfortable with the blasting, her biggest concern is displacing fishermen’s traps and pots in the area and disrupting their business, especially while they’re already struggling with COVID-19-related business woes and that in order to have her support, she wanted the QDC to compensate fishermen for that lost revenue, a point which was backed by Welch.
“I’m just not comfortable with this,” Brimer said.
McKay countered, saying he believed 20 days gave fishermen more than enough time to move their traps.
The motion passed 3-2, with McKay, Mancini and Councilor Kevin Maloney for it and Brimer and Welch opposed.
Earlier on, the council also heard a presentation from RIDOT Managing Engineer and Secretary of the State Traffic Commission (STC) Sean Diamond regarding updates into the state’s study of the three way intersection between Brown Street, Phillips Street and Boston Neck Road, where the three busy roads join with only a stop sign and yield sign, only one of two such intersections in the state of Rhode Island.
Raymond said that over a three-year period, RIDOT found that 14 separate accidents occurred at the intersection, mainly rear endings but also some angled crashes, though said the vast majority ended up as property damage only (PDO) crashes, with drivers leaving with only minor injuries.
He said Town Manager Ralph Mollis and Town Council President Greg Mancini both attended and spoke at the most recent STC meeting on Sept. 2 to give their input and insight as both leaders and residents of North Kingstown and said that the group had came up with a pair of solutions to try and remedy the problem: changing the Boston Neck Road yield sign to a stop sign or placing three stop signs, one at each end, in order to increase pedestrian safety and decrease confusion for tourists and other non-locals who may be confused by the current setup.
The Wickford Advisory Council submitted a letter which was read out during the meeting that called the first proposal effectively useless.
“Simply changing the existing yield sign on northbound Boston Neck Road to a stop sign, as proposed, will do little to improve the issue,” the letter stated. “The same confusion will remain regarding who has the right of way through the town.”
Instead, the WAC was more supportive of the second option of installing three stop signs or potentially placing traffic lights at the intersection.
Local business owners also spoke out on the matter, including Suzanne Mancini of The Sew-Op, who said she’s witnessed numerous near misses and that incidents of road rage are almost a daily occurrence between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. every week.
Jean Rochi of The Impressed Olive 1 said the accident numbers don’t even show the full picture of just how dangerous of an intersection it is.
“It can’t go on like this,” Rochi said. “Somebody is going to get killed sooner or later.”
North Kingstown Fire Chief Scott Kettelle said that while he didn’t have enough of the information on the specifics for him to endorse a decision, he still felt something needed to be done, noting that traffic flow through the area has greatly increased during his 32 years with the department.
Councilor Richard Welch expressed his concerns with a backup of traffic at Brown Street interfering with emergency vehicle response times, a point echoed by fellow Councilor Mary Brimer which Raymond said could be addressed further.
Brimer said that she herself was nearly involved in an accident last year when someone almost hit her car, prompting her to call a high school friend about the incident, with her friend saying the same thing had happened to her three weeks before.
Councilor Kerry McKay summed up his feelings in just a few words.
“We need to get our priorities straight: pedestrians first, cars second,” McKay said, proposing that RIDOT explore constructing raised sidewalks to make cars slow down and prioritize pedestrians walking through the village.
“I concur with Councilor McKay,” Mancini said, adding that he personally avoids the Boston Neck Road crosswalk out of concerns for his own safety. “We need to make our community more accessible to walkers.”
Mancini asked Raymond to consider adding a crosswalk button for people to push to cross the street, while McKay inquired about getting a cone to mark the lanes in the middle of the intersection.
On Wilson Park, the council voted unanimously to approve $468,109.42 for a new playground and water splash pad, along with other recreation improvements to the park.
Recreation Director Chelsey Dumas Gibbs gave a presentation on the matter, saying that it’s time to replace the playground, which is used daily by campers during the summer Recreation Department camp, as some of the equipment dates back to 1993 and perhaps earlier.
In its place, a new, larger, sports-themed playground will be built, matching the theme of the athletic fields surrounding it, as well as a water splash pad, which will be connected to existing water lines serving the bathroom/concession stand building and water flow will be turned off instantly when not in use according to Water Director Tim Cranston.
According to estimates by the Recreation Department, if the project is ordered by Oct. 2, they expect to have it completed by April 2021.
Also concerning the Water Department was a presentation by TJ Butler of WaterSmart, a software platform for municipal water customers to check their current and past usage and bills, report leaks and watch informational videos to help fix minor issues and save money which was recommended by the department. The software, is optional for residents, is used in several Massachusetts towns including Franklin and Sharon and came recommended by the department and the town, which upon a 5-0 vote by the council became the first municipality in Rhode Island to adopt the program.
“I feel like this is going to be a great tool for us,” Cranston said, adding that it will save his department both time and money as well as bring billing into the 21st century and that he hopes to have the software available for residents by November.
Other notable presentations at the meeting included the introduction of new North Kingstown Free Library Director Susan Straub, a familiar face to library members as she previously worked there from 1998 to 2016, starting as an intern page and working her way up to Deputy Director before taking a job with Ocean State Libraries.
“I’m very excited to be back,” Staub said.
Also occurring was the shuffling around of the next three Town Council meetings, with the Oct. 5 and Nov. 23 regular meetings being cancelled and the Nov. 9 meeting rescheduled for Nov. 16, which was approved by a unanimous vote.