May 20, 2024

Watch Hill Lighthouse Property Transfer: Public Access Under Threat

Public Access at Risk: Controversy Over Watch Hill Lighthouse Property Transfer in Rhode Island

In a contentious move that has sparked public outcry, the 4-acre Watch Hill Lighthouse property in Rhode Island, a beloved coastal landmark traditionally open to the public, has been transferred from federal control to a private nonprofit organization. This organization is composed predominantly of wealthy local residents, triggering concerns that the transfer could jeopardize the public’s access to the land—a claim that the organization disputes.

Westerly’s Appeal Overlooked

The decision to transfer the property comes despite the town of Westerly’s appeal to keep the lighthouse property under public ownership, a plea that was echoed by many residents and stakeholders in the community. Their voices, however, appear to have been sidelined, as the federal government hastily finalized the transaction. This rapid conclusion is particularly unsettling, given that the status of the road leading to the property—the public’s primary access route—remains under legal review.

Criticism Mounts Against Rhode Island’s Congressional Delegation

The Rhode Island congressional delegation, including U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, along with Rep. Seth Magaziner, have been criticized for their seeming inaction during the property handover. Critics argue that their silence contradicts prior assurances from Senator Reed that public access to the land would be preserved. Requests for comment from Senator Reed’s office have thus far been met with silence, adding fuel to the fire of public dissatisfaction.

Can Eminent Domain be the Answer?

Amid the controversy, the article suggests that one possible solution could be for the Westerly Town Council to exercise its power of eminent domain. This legal mechanism could potentially allow the town to reclaim the property for public use, thus preserving its historical role in the community. The council’s willingness to consider this option, however, remains to be seen.

As this story unfolds, the hope remains that the Westerly Town Council will stand up for the rights of its citizens, countering the loss of public access to an important part of their local heritage. The Rhode Island congressional delegation’s apparent favoritism towards wealthy donors over the public interest will continue to be scrutinized. The Watch Hill Lighthouse property controversy serves as a stark reminder of the ongoing struggle between private interests and public access, a battle that is surely far from over.

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