Narragansett Town Committee recommends free access to tribal beach after hearing ‘disappointing’ criticism from locals at ‘unruly’ meeting

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If City Council adopts the suggestion unanimously approved by the city’s Coastal Access Improvement Committee on Wednesday evening, enrolled members of the Narragansett Indian Tribe would receive free passes to the city’s beach. from Narragansett, waiving drive and park fees.

Committee chair Cinna Zerquera-Martin says she’s optimistic City Council will approve the fee waiver by the start of the summer beach season.

“Narragansett Town Beach is named after them; the town of Narragansett is named after them,” Zerquera-Martin said of the tribe. “We think this is long overdue and the right thing to do. And we are doing it now.

City Council Speaker Jesse Pugh, who liaises with the Coastal Access Committee, said city councilors are likely to take up the proposal at their May 16 meeting and he plans to bring a motion and then vote on it. adopt the changes.

In practice, Pugh said, the change would be minimal and “it won’t make a big difference to anyone in town.” But, he said, “it’s a big change symbolically, and it will be great for the town of Narragansett to be the first town in Rhode Island to do so.”

The proposal drew stiff opposition at Wednesday’s meeting. A small group of residents spoke out, with one person calling the fee waiver discriminatory and others suggesting it could lead to overcrowding at Narragansett Town Beach.

During a separate discussion of Native American land acknowledgment declarations before town meetings, Pugh says one attendee stood up, shouted and walked out of the meeting. He sometimes called the meeting “unruly.”

“It was ugly,” he said. “It was extremely uncomfortable, tense, disappointing. And it was very similar to the tone and opinions we get when we have these workshops [on shoreline access issues].”

The committee heard from a supporter of the fee waiver, Narragansett Tribe member Randy Noka, who received applause after his comments.

“He definitely changed the tone of the room, and it calmed down,” Pugh said. “I don’t know if that changed my mind… Everyone who spoke [against the waiver] spoke about how much they understood the trials and tribulations of the tribe and how unfair things were throughout history. However, they are not willing to support this.

For Pugh and others, the resistance is not surprising. In recent years, there have been ongoing tensions between beachgoers and landowners in Narragansett who have lobbied for public beach policies to be more favorable to full-time and part-time residents.

Some residents have called for a cap on the number of people at the beach, restrictions on parking lots, a limit on RIPTA bus service to Narragansett Town Beach, a policeman to patrol the beach on ATVs and an entrance where non-residents can have their property searched for weapons.

“They are very concerned about what some townspeople think is a private beach,” said Zerquera-Martin, chairwoman of the Coastal Access Improvement Committee. “It’s not. It’s open to the public.”

Speaking of the continued push to institute a fee waiver for members of the Narragansett Indian Tribe, she said: ‘It has been a difficult experience but a worthwhile experience, and I will continue to pursue it to the end when it will be resolved and we are able to bring the tribe back to their beach.

Alex Nunes can be contacted at [email protected]

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