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    Sunday, July 21, 2024

    OPINION: Dear Taylor Swift: Please help the public keep using Watch Hill shoreline

    Taylor Swift’s Watch Hill mansion on this small cliff looks down at the Watch Hill Lighthouse, which appears to the left. (undated The Day file photo.)

    Dear Taylor Swift,

    I know you’ve been really busy this summer with the big concert tour and all. Sorry to bother you.

    You probably have not caught up with Westerly news. I wonder if you’ve even been able to spend much time at all at the Watch Hill house.

    I know you have a lot of beautiful other properties at which you must enjoy spending time.

    And it was a hot summer here, although probably a lot more pleasant than it might have been at home in Nashville.

    There is something here I hope you might be able to give some attention to, though.

    It seems your fancy neighbors in Watch Hill have become set on closing down some important access to the shoreline that the public has used and enjoyed there for years.

    I’m thinking you probably don’t agree with this. And I can’t think of anyone who might be a better advocate for preserving the public’s right to enjoy the shoreline in Watch Hill than you.

    It wouldn’t take a big effort.

    I’m sure you have lawyers and publicists who could put out some statements of support that public access advocates would be extremely grateful for. To have the most celebrated and famous resident of the village speak out about preserving longstanding public access there would be really powerful.

    Maybe ― and I know this is asking a lot ― you could also ask your staff to arrange some phone calls to politicians in the Rhode Island congressional delegation -- Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed and Rep. Seth Magaziner -- who so far seem to be siding with your rich neighbors on the issue of public access, instead of their constituents, the people of Westerly.

    You see, the elected representatives of the people of Westerly, the Town Council, voted by a wide margin ― it would have been unanimous except for the guy, who has since resigned, who was a paid local government watcher for Watch Hill interests ― to ask the federal government to give the surplus Watch Hill Lighthouse property to the town.

    For some strange reason, these politicians, who usually don’t have trouble finding something to say, have not found their voices to express support for the public owning the magnificent Watch Hill Lighthouse peninsula.

    The rich nonprofit that has been managing the property for the Coast Guard is also asking for ownership but said in its application, which it refused to make public on its own, that it can’t guarantee public access if it succeeds in acquiring the property. It says it can’t promise access on the road to the lighthouse that has been in continuous use by the Coast Guard and public for many decades.

    The town, on the other hand, promises continued public access and permission to the nonprofit to manage and curate the historic lighthouse buildings. Perfect, right?

    The Washington politicians from Rhode Island have also been mum on the lawsuit filed this year against the town by the Watch Hill Fire District, which is trying to close what the town has said is legal public access to the magnificent beaches of Napatree Point.

    It’s a puzzle to me why, in this day and age, the politicians seem so willing to allow the public in Rhode Island to lose access to so much magnificent shoreline that it has enjoyed for generations. How shameful that it would happen on their watches.

    Maybe you can talk some sense into them. By all accounts you have been very supportive in preserving the commodious public path to the beach alongside your property.

    By the way, I loved your song, “The Last Great American Dynasty,” celebrating the former owner of your house, heiress Rebekah Harkness, for her spirit and pluck and resistance to conformity.

    I suspect that you, like Rebekah Harkness, wouldn’t care if advocating for continued public access near your mansion might ruffle some feathers among your more stodgy neighbors.

    It seems to me you could channel a little more of Rebekah Harkness in vetoing the neighbors’ plans, some carried out with an aggressive lawsuit by expensive lawyers, to exclude the public from beaches and the shoreline.

    They could eventually say about you what you sang about Harkness, who didn’t care what her neighbors thought: “She had a marvelous time ruining everything.”

    Maybe some day there will be a song about the celebrity singer who helped guarantee the public access to the Rhode Island shoreline through the ages.

    This is the opinion of David Collins.

    d.collins@theday.com

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