At the center of all this talk is the trash at Pebble Beach, the popular fishing spot on the rocky shoreline of the Sakonnet River, accessible to all at the end of a public right-of-way where Peckham and Indian Avenues meet, a few feet before the Portsmouth town line.
According to area residents, the fishermen who park there are out-of-control litterbugs. To that end, the Town of Middletown is considering a ban on parking at the juncture of those roads, and had put it on the docket for its March 6 Town Council meeting.
The parking ban would be a no-brainer to some, and anathema to others.
Indian Avenue property owners who argued in favor have complained for years about the buildup of parked cars on days when the fish are biting, and the mess the fishermen leave behind. “At the end of the day,” one of them told the council, “that whole street is trashed. There are fish guts all over. It’s absolutely disgusting.”
Those against were equally vocal. “Parking restrictions are the biggest impediment to any kind of fishing access,” countered Dennis Zambrotta, president of the Newport County Salt Water Fishing Club. “It’s probably the worst thing, you can do for fishermen.”
Access to the shore is protected under Rhode Island state law, which, according to Section 17 of the Constitution recognizes that residents of Little Rhody “shall be secure in their rights to the use and enjoyment of the natural resources of the state with due regard for the preservation of their values.”
No matter how you slice it – even if it’s with the precision of a filet knife – this is a situation with valid arguments on both sides. But maybe an answer lies in Section 17 and its reference to the rights of our citizens. On NTW's Facebook last week a story about the meeting garnered strong comments on both sides. ”Fishermen are notorious litterbugs,” said one reader, an avid hiker. One of two avid fishermen pointed out that “most of the litter problem comes from fishermen from out of town.” “Most of the garbage left behind,” said the other, “is from out-of-town fishermen.”
Both added that calling DEM is a fool’s errand, that its enforcers already have enough on their platters.
On the other hand, one of the more vocal proponents of the ban acknowledged at the meeting her respect for fishermen and suggested a sticker program for residents.
At the bottom of the barrel, it is a town problem, and it’s up to Middletown to solve it.
No one who lives on this beautiful island should be denied access to the shoreline. Stickers might work. There is a mad dash for Middletown beach stickers – a rite of spring for residents and non-residents alike – once they go on sale in May. Stickers also work for Newporters who are glad to have them displayed on their windshield during the summer months. People respect stickers.
If stickers are not an option, maybe all it would take is a few days of a “Trash Trap” set-up with Middletown police levying fines, for word to spread that littering is prohibited and pricey.
All it might take is a bit of creative thinking for the town to reel in a solution that works for all.