Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis, who spearheaded efforts to restore fees at the city’s three beaches, is disappointed with Acting Mayor Joseph Solomon’s action to suspend the fees for the upcoming season. Travis believes the fees, especially a fee at Oakland Beach, would discourage people from littering the premises and is only fair as fees are charged at other beaches.
“Why should we be the only free beach?” she asked Monday.
But Solomon questions whether fees will discourage littering and, since his announcement Thursday, said he has received calls and comments from several people who are pleased the fees won’t be implemented.
“Our beaches are some of Warwick’s best recreational and environmental assets,” Solomon said in a press release. “My ultimate goal is to ensure that our beaches are clean for the enjoyment of our residents and out-of-town guests and to keep litter from polluting the bay, without putting a possibly undue financial burden on beachgoers. Putting this program on hold will enable us to get a better grasp of any causal factors related to the litter that’s being generated and address the problem in a fiscally-responsible, effective and multi-faceted way.”
On Monday, Solomon reiterated that former Mayor Scott Avedisian neither accounted for the expense of implementing fees or their projected revenues in his proposed budget and therefore suspending the program would not have a financial impact. As for the issue of litter, he said he is looking for voluntary litter patrols as well as individuals and businesses to help pitch in. Asked about enforcement of anti-littering laws, Solomon said he is inclined to address the problem through volunteer cleanup efforts and increased awareness. Issuing fines he sees as a last resort.
Travis said she has witnessed people drop containers after buying takeout within steps of a trash barrel.
“You wouldn’t do this if it’s your house,” she said. She would favor stricter enforcement of anti-littering laws. “What’s the point of having a law if it’s not enforced,” she said.
City Planner and Chief of Staff William DePasquale thought a fee could even have an adverse effect in that having paid, people would feel empowered to drop their trash. He feels a change of behavior is needed to address the problem.
DePasquale also observed that unlike most state beaches where there is a parking fee, the Oakland Beach lot is frequented by visitors who enjoy sitting in their cars and viewing the bay.
Asked about the possible adverse effects of a fee on Tuesday Cruise nights at Oakland Beach, Travis said that had been taken into consideration and participants would have received passes.
“These are not the ones who leave garbage. They’re good,” she said.
It was not clear how the fees would have affected attendance.
The release indicates that, in lieu of the fee program, the city will be looking at “restructuring of certain departmental functions and an analysis of how to streamline some municipal services is underway,” which “could likely free up additional resources for this purpose than have traditionally been allocated.”
The beach fees program was originally proposed last August by Travis and was finalized and approved by a unanimous vote of the Warwick City Council in December. It would have imposed fees at $20 per car for a season pass for Warwick residents and $40 per car for non-residents, with senior discounts halving those amounts. Single visit fees would have been $5 for Warwick residents and $10 for nonresidents, again with senior discounts available.
(With reports from Ethan Hartley)