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    Thursday, December 07, 2023

    OPINION: Why won’t U.S. Sen. Reed do more to help Westerly secure town ownership of Watch Hill Lighthouse?

    I guess maybe I am old fashioned in thinking that a U.S. senator has a lot of clout in Washington and should use it as best as he or she can to help constituents navigate the bureaucracies there.

    And ― apparently mistakenly ― it would seem to me that once a community in your state makes a bid to take public ownership of surplus U.S. property, an amazing trophy of Rhode Island coastal real estate, that you get on board and help, put a shoulder against the wheels of bureaucracy.

    And yet neither Sen. Jack Reed nor Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse have done much of anything that I can see to help Westerly in its bid to acquire the Watch Hill Lighthouse, as it is about to be given away by the federal government. Same thing for U.S. Rep. Seth Magaziner: Nothing. Zip.

    Maybe the Democrats who represent southern Rhode Islanders in Washington agree with the Watch Hill-centric Westerly councilor who recently told me he doesn’t think the town should own a taco truck, let alone the magnificent lighthouse peninsula.

    It sure looks like the politicians in Rhode Island’s Washington delegation are catering not to their voting constituents in Westerly but rather to the rich summer residents of Watch Hill, many who vote from their Florida tax haven, who want to keep the public away from their shoreline, now guarded by expensive lawyering.

    Are the Washington pols more worried about satisfying the mega political donor and his multimillion-dollar PAC, whose twin mansions abut the lighthouse property, than the voting public of Westerly?

    It is true that Westerly dropped the ball a few years ago when the process began to give away the surplus lighthouse property, and the town actually endorsed ownership by the rich Watch Hill-centric nonprofit that has been managing it for the Coast Guard.

    But a new Town Council voted almost unanimously ― the Watch Hill resident on the council voted no ― to ask the federal government to reopen the process and give the property to the town.

    The Washington pols should understand as well as anyone that elections have consequences and the people of Westerly have spoken through their elected representatives.

    No deed has been signed, and the senators and representatives who represent Westerly should work hard to achieve local public ownership of the magnificent site, developed by U.S. taxpayers. What better way to ensure and properly manage public access there forever?

    Press spokesmen for the senators and representative won’t return my calls on lighthouse matters.

    A letter from Sen. Reed to a constituent, who shared it with me, offered some lame talk about hopes for public access to the shoreline.

    “I wrote to the Secretary of the Interior, who oversees the (National Park Service) to share the town’s interest,” Reed wrote to a constituent.

    “As the Town continues its dialogue with the NPS, I stand ready to assist in the important goals of public access and preservation.”

    I passed along the town’s letter, the senator said. I’m glad to assist. ... Really? That’s it? Honestly? Could the senator be any more noncommittal?

    I don’t hear Sen. Reed, or anyone else representing Westerly in Washington, giving a full-throated endorsement of town/public ownership of this important coastal resource.

    How hard would it be for this delegation to loudly demand that the process start over, that the federal government listen closely to a municipality that wants ownership of this fine surplus federal property.

    Instead, the politicians seem content to let the site become a bauble for the Watch Hill cocktail circuit, with the terms of any public access subject to the whims of the rich gatekeepers.

    This is the opinion of David Collins.


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