The news that the city of Warwick passed a first reading to reinstate fees to park at its three public beach facilities – Conimicut, Oakland Beach and City Park – spread throughout the community quickly and vigorously.
The ordinance change is not yet official, but given the unanimous vote by the city council in its first reading of what was a collaborative effort between the City Council and Mayor Scott Avedisian to propose the change, it is more than likely that the city will go ahead and approve the second passage of this plan, and that fees will truly be implemented next summer season.
Some find the fees to be outrageous, as they don’t believe the facilities are worth paying for, regardless of whether you’re a resident of Warwick or not. Others believe the fees will cut down on the prevalence of people with no regard for the cleanliness of the beaches who trash them, and that the money generated will help improve the facilities.
Those who initiated the action, it should be noted, have been involved in Warwick policy long enough to recall the last time fees were mandatory features to park at these outdoor staples of the city.
Donna Travis, the city councilwoman whose ward includes Oakland Beach, was the one to initiate the idea in the hopes it would decrease the amount of garbage left behind by people who have taken advantage of Warwick as the only city that offered full, free access to its outdoor recreational facilities.
Avedisian was on the opposite side of the issue about 20 years ago when he worked with then-mayor Lincoln Chafee to abolish beach fees in Warwick, hoping that it would bring more people to enjoy the facilities. He said last week that, in the time since then, he has come to believe that charging a fee to enjoy the beaches gives residents a sense of pride in keeping them clean, and prevents those without an attachment to them from being free to litter them and leave as they please.
The argument is a sound one, however many questions remain. Oakland Beach, in particular, is often closed for swimming during the summer due to high levels of bacteria in the water. Will fees still be charged to residents to park during such a closure, where the beach cannot even be used in the traditional way that most beaches is used?
If the fees are not intended to keep nonresidents away from the facilities, as City Council president Joseph Solomon said last Monday, then why are the daily fees for nonresidents four times what they used to be in the 90s, and what nonresident would pay $60 for a season pass to beach facilities not located in their community? Will these fees have a negative effect on businesses in the areas of the beaches?
The city will have to hire beach workers to enforce the policy. Even at part time salaries, won’t these costs cut into the hypothetical profit margin that will be brought in by the fees? Only time will tell if enough people are willing to pay to visit these beaches to actually generate enough revenue to make a positive difference at these facilities, as those initiating this policy change hope is the case.
Citizens must be vigilant of this policy moving forward, and demand access to accurate figures regarding the number of residents and nonresidents attending each facility, and the amount of revenue that is being generated.
Any available profit from these fees must go into cleaning and improving these facilities so that all may enjoy these areas that they are being asked to pay to visit for the first time in many years.