CHARLESTOWN — The council discussed the parameters of a townwide survey of residents at the Monday meeting and members agreed to discuss proposals from two outside polling firms at a future public meeting.

The council allocated up to $75,000 for a professional survey to determine the needs of residents after voters rejected the proposed 2020 budget, which contained a $3.1 million line item for the construction of a community and recreation center.

Three survey firms responded to the request for proposals: blumshapiro, National Research Center and Siena College Research Institute.Blumshapiro of Cranston proposes an assessment of town departments, focus groups, individual interviews, community meetings, and a general survey. The cost of the work would be $58,800.

National Research Center and its polling division, Polco, of Boulder, Colo., propose combining a mail survey, which would be sent to “selected recipients,” and an online survey. The cost of the mailed survey would be up to $51,000 for 5,000 recipients and for the web-based survey, $40,000 for up to 5,000 recipients.

The Siena College Research Institute of Loudonville, N.Y., proposes a telephone survey of a sample of landline and mobile phone customers. The cost of the survey, which would be administered to an unspecified number of respondents, would be $20,000.

Councilor David Wilkinson proposed eliminating the Siena proposal, because he felt that it was less comprehensive than the others.

“I find that Siena’s proposal was not very thorough as opposed to blumshapiro and National Research Center,” he said. “I think we should include those two and not Siena, just for time. So, just interview blumshapiro and National Research Center.”

Councilor Bonnie Van Slyke revised her motion to have the council interview two, rather than three, firms.

Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz will contact the two companies and arrange the interviews, which will be conducted in the context of a public meeting.

“I would suggest for this, the first week in February, which would allow us time to then discuss and make a decision at our February meeting,” Van Slyke said.

Councilor Deborah Carney said she wanted to be certain that the interview meeting would be open to the public and she received assurances that it would be.

“As long as we can discuss them then, because I do have some concerns with some of the proposals and it seemed as though some of the applicants were unsure  as to what exactly we were looking for, so as long as it’s open to the public, then I’m fine with that,” Carney said.

The date of the meeting is yet to be determined, but it will take place in early February.

Shoreline access

Arriving at the council meeting late after attending other events earlier in the evening, Rep. Blake Filippi (R-Charlestown) briefed the council on possible measures to ensure continued public access to the shoreline.

The beach-access issue was the subject of statewide attention last June when Charlestown resident Scott Keeley was arrested when he  crossed into South Kingstown from Charlestown as he gathered seaweed along the shoreline. In an interview on Jan. 10, council President Virginia Lee said the Keeley incident had prompted the council to act.

“Because of the provoked arrest in South Kingstown, there was concern in Charlestown about public access,” she said.

The Town Council approved a resolution last August, proposed by Carney, calling on the state legislature to clarify the public access issue. Shoreline access is guaranteed in the Rhode Island Constitution, and a 1982 Rhode Island Supreme Court decision defined the boundary of public access as the the average level of mean high tide over 18.6 years.

In recent years, however, rising sea levels and the resulting shifts in shorelines have made that calculation next to impossible.

“I like the Supreme Court case and I don’t like it,” Filippi said in an earlier interview. “The reason I like it is because it says in order for someone to trespass, the state has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person knew where that mean high tide line is … We don’t have a clear definition, so we have people who interpret things differently and you have conflicts like what happened to Scott.”

Filippi proposed a more workable definition for the publicly-accessible section of the shoreline.

“One of the things I’m thinking is 10 feet beyond the wet sand,” he said. “That could give us a pretty clear line in the sand, so to speak, that people can look at.”

Filippi said the challenge was to ensure public access while respecting the rights of beachfront property owners.

“Our difficulty is preserving these public access rights and respecting people’s property rights, and I think if we all work together, we can find a way to do it.”

Lee said sea-level rise would require a solution, otherwise public access would be lost.

“We’re going to lose our access if we don’t have some new accommodation,” she said.


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