2015-03-26 / Front Page

Bill Filed for Marine Police Unit

By Tom Walsh

A second, more ambitious bill creating a new state marine safety patrol with full police powers, in addition to adding new state mooring fees on top of existing local fees, has been filed in the Rhode Island House of Representatives.

And, as with an earlier version submitted on Jan. 29 and later withdrawn, the measure was greeted with no enthusiasm by Newport city officials and state lawmakers.

“It’s ridiculous. This proposal is outrageous,” declared Newport Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano. “We’ve got the Coast Guard right here in Newport. It is unnecessary.” The council voted unanimously to approve a resolution officially expressing the city’s opposition to the bill at its meeting on Wednesday, March 25.

“It still sounds like paying twice for the same thing,” said Tim Mills, Newport’s harbormaster. Newport, he said, now takes in $409,000 a year in mooring fees.

“My constituents don’t like it,” said Rep. Lauren Carson, D-Newport. “As a result, I have to oppose this bill.” Carson said she personally does not like the proposal. “There is a whole list of reasons why the bill is unnecessary.”

Similarly, Rep. Marvin L. Abney, D-Newport, said, “If the bill is going to injure or hurt us locally, particularly the commercial fishing industry, then I have issues with that.”

Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport, had previously expressed her opposition to the first mooring bill.

Both set out fee schedules that would apply to moorings located in the state’s 17 coastline communities according to boat weight. The earlier version proposed fees ranging from $150 to $500 per mooring. The updated measure calls for fees from $100 to $350.

The first bill was sponsored by House Democratic Rep. Scott A. Slater of Providence and Republican Rep. Joseph A. Trillo of Warwick. Slater and Trillo, as well as a handful of other representatives not from the Newport area, signed the second bill that was submitted on March 12.

Slater said the idea for the original bill started with him after he got a call from a constituent. “He told me that some places have long waiting lists and that in some cases many out-of-staters have the moorings.” Slater said his primary thrust was to give municipal residents first priority for mooring space in their city or town, with Rhode Island residents who do not live in a municipality where they desire a mooring having second priority.

Indeed, as with Slater’s January version, the new bill would accomplish that. Third priority in the new bill would go to out-of-state residents. In the first bill, third priority would have gone to marina and yacht club owners. In Slater’s latest version, they are left out entirely.

As for the proposed state marine safety patrol, Slater’s new bill provides that:

.Fees collected by the state must be used to create the new department of state marine safety patrol.

.The new department would have jurisdiction to patrol the open bay and all waters within three miles of the Rhode Island coastline.

.With “full police powers,” the proposed department’s officers must be graduates of either a municipal or state police training academy.

.Department officers must also have seamanship training as well as 150 hours of boat operation experience.

Department officers would be authorized to issue fines or citations, with money generated earmarked to support the department.

Harbormaster Mills said that in his experience, the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the Coast Guard are already good partners with the city in guiding marine activities. DEM gave the original Slater bill a cool reception.

Chief Warrant Officer John Roberts, commanding officer of the Coast Guard station at Castle Hill, said he could not comment on the politics of the issue. However, he did say, “Right now we work well with the state police and DEM at the state level, and with all the harbormasters.”

The second bill would also require cities and towns with mooring space to have a master plan for awarding the spaces and to have four commercial moorings for every six private ones. Also, the bill would limit mooring awards to no more than three years and would prohibit "passing on" moorings to "another person or entity."

Slater said that the limit did not necessarily mean boaters would lose their moorings after three years. However, he said there would be a “review” every three years.

“We have more than 500 people on our waiting list here,” Mills said. “Should people wait 20 years to get a mooring for only three years?”

The bill was assigned to the Municipal Government Committee. Slater said he hoped the committee would hold a hearing on the measure soon.

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