Portsmouth residents rail against Sakonnet tolls

The Portsmouth Town Council faced a full agenda Monday.

The council discussed and voted on everything from a potential tax on marijuana sold at a soon-to-open dispensary to ways to help Prudence Island residents facing the loss of ferry service.

But most of those who attended the Town Council meeting wanted to talk about tolls on the new Sakonnet River Bridge.

Some say they don't believe a recent economic impact study dug deep enough into the potential consequences. The proposed tolls are 75 cents each way with a Rhode Island E-ZPass transponder and $3.75 each way with an out-of-state transponder. The toll would be $5.25 each way with no transponder.

Some residents and some local community leaders are mad.

"It will wreck the state. Inadvertently, it will destroy the state because they won't be getting the taxes. They won't be getting anything from this part of the state, and they'll lose a lot of income. They'll lose more by putting a toll on this bridge than they will by getting the money from the toll, really. They stand to lose more than they stand to gain," said Jeanne Smith of Portsmouth.

She said thousands of people have signed a petition opposing the Sakonnet River Bridge tolls.

"Over 300 businesses have come forward and told us how it's going to affect their business, and yet they're (the state and federal government are) still saying, 'Nah, it's not a big deal. It's not going to affect anything.' And that's simply not true," Smith said.

"Hundreds of people have spoken, many businesses have spoken, all against the tolls. They've testified as to how it's going to impact their personal lives. They've testified as to how it's going to impact their businesses. And you know, no one has come out to say that this toll is a good thing," Smith's husband, Jim Smith, said.

Ray Berberick, a board member of the Portsmouth Business Association, said he is vehemently against the addition of tolls on the bridge.

"The state potentially could lose quite a bit of revenue, and lost state tax revenue from diversion of tourists. Also, closing of business would add to the unemployment rolls, the cost would be added on to the businesses here because business owners would have to pay the tolls themselves, and they'll have to pay higher costs as the suppliers to these business bring in their goods and services, and the customers that patronize those businesses are going to also pay higher costs as a result," Berberick said.

Also on the agenda was how to solve the problem with a local wind turbine.

The town of Portsmouth spent hundreds of thousands to build the turbine in 2009, but now the turbine sits still. It has a broken gear box and is inoperable.

But on Monday, the wheels were put in motion to get the turbine spinning again as soon as possible.

"The council has just now has decided to allow us to put that (request for proposal) back out on the street to see if we can find anybody else who is interested (in the project). The goal is to get it back into operation, and start producing power from the turbine for the grid to help us offset our electric costs," town planner Gary Crosby said.