The Cranston City Council passed an amended ordinance, 6-2, Monday night prohibiting fishing from the guardrail and street at the scenic overlook on Ocean Avenue. Citywide Councilman Ken Hopkins was absent from proceedings.
The original ordinance, sponsored by Council President Michael Farina and Majority Leader Christopher Paplauskas, barred fishing entirely “where Ocean Avenue meets the shoreline at any time.”
After hearing more than an hour of testimony, Vice President Michael Favicchio proposed an amendment to restrict fishing just to the shoreline and seawall. He wanted to make it clear that it was not an anti-fishing ordinance, as fishermen’s rights are heavily protected in the Rhode Island Constitution.
An ordinance passed by the Council in 2005 placed stricter guidelines on noise and sound issues affecting the area, but locals wanted stronger legislation on Monday.
An overwhelming majority of the gallery spoke out in support of the ordinance, alleging that those fishing have done everything from public urination to littering and playing loud music throughout the day.
Michelyn Saccoccio said the “situation has been escalating for many years.” She brought a collage of pictures of what she has seen at the outlook, which included overflowing garbage cans, trash left not he street and overcrowding.
“It’s an environmental concern, health concern and safety concern,” Saccoccio said. “It’s a popular place to pitch tents, drink, gut fish.”
Scott Jabagjorian also came out in favor of the ordinance. He said that it becomes nearly impossible for residents to enjoy access to the water when fishermen are set up.
“Coolers, tents, loud music, fishing poles, public drinking,” Jabagjorian said were amongst the issues at the site. “It’s just not possible for others to enjoy the same access. Fishermen as a group create an unsafe environment for others. Fishing at this location is not working. The only way to be against this ordinance is they have not experienced what my wife and I have.”
George Aldrich said safety is why he came out to back the ordinance. He said the tight packing of cars on the street creates a dangerous environment for children especially.
“I have six children, eight grandchildren with a couple more coming,” Aldrich said. “Fishermen have children. They park two to three cars not the street and you're pulling into your driveway and you have to stop. Look at this problem before something happens.”
The ordinance did have its opponents. Narragansett Baykeeper Michael Jarbeau from Save the Bay was on hand to speak out, saying that fishing didn’t seem to be the heart of the problem.
“We advocate to increase access to all Rhode Islanders,” Jarbeau said. “In our conversations it is clear that fishing is not the problem, it’s parking, trespassing, other disorderly conduct, but we have yet to hear from someone actually opposed to the fishing at the end of Ocean Avenue. The Rhode Island Constitution guarantees all rights to fish, especially all rights to fish from the shoreline.”
Dave Monti, a Rhode Islander Saltwater Anglers Association board member and weekly columnist for the Herald, said he would be happy to have RISAA work with Cranston to come up with solutions to the issue. He said the ordinance was “not going to fool anybody.”
“We work with cities and towns on these access issues to find creative solutions, as others have said, that fishing is not generally the issue but litter is the issue. Behavior is the issue, hours of fishing locations. We have some creative solutions we work with RIDEM to develop. We have worked with the attorney general on access issues. It’s a constitutional right to give someone the access to fish.”
There was bipartisan support for the amendment and the ordinance, as Ward 2 Councilman Paul McAuley said it was a good first step.
“I’m going to support this ordinance,” McAuley, a Democrat, said. “We have to control the trash. We have to save the bay. This still allows fishermen to go to the shoreline. It keeps the people that are using it as a party haven to think twice about going down there.”
Fellow democrat Paul Archetto of Ward 3 also backed the amendment and ordinance.
“The pollution was staggering to me,” Archetto, “In testimony we heard, [between] littering, public drinking, danger to small children, the people of the Edgewood area are asking for help. We allow people to fish, but I think we should restrict it a bit.”
The sponsors never wavered. Paplauskas voiced that the law was about safety and access, while Farina closed Council comment with a short yet definitive statement.
“This is about trash going in the bay and still allowing fishing, and allowing residents who live down there access to the water.” Paplauskas said.
“I will never legislate out of fear of someone suing me,” Farina said. “We feel what we do is right on attorney’s counsel.”
Citywide Councilman John Lanni Jr., voted against the ordinance, along with Ward 1’s Steven Stycos. Lanni said the city is “inviting” litigation.
“This is an ordinance to ban fishing,” Lanni said. “It’s illegal. Simply illegal.”