Portsmouth to explore improving Stone Bridge, Teddy’s Beach

Resident John Vitkevich calls for resolution to seek funding

By Jim McGaw
Posted 9/27/21

PORTSMOUTH — It’s time the town stepped up and made the eyesore that is the Stone Bridge abutment disappear, says local resident John Vitkevich.

Acknowledging he’s envious …

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Portsmouth to explore improving Stone Bridge, Teddy’s Beach

Resident John Vitkevich calls for resolution to seek funding

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — It’s time the town stepped up and made the eyesore that is the Stone Bridge abutment disappear, says local resident John Vitkevich.

Acknowledging he’s envious of the Town of Tiverton’s job in transforming its own Stone Bridge abutment on the opposite side of the Sakonnet River into a sparkling waterfront park, Vitkevich convinced the Town Council Monday night to draw up a resolution urging state lawmakers to seek state and federal funding to get the job done. That resolution will be considered at the next council meeting on Oct. 12.

Stone Bridge connected Tiverton and Portsmouth for about 160 years until 1956, when the original Sakonnet River Bridge opened. The abutments on either side remain, but the one in Portsmouth is closed to the public because it’s in such poor condition.

“It’s deplorable now,” Vitkevich said of the abutment, a section of which collapsed in 2019 and broke off into the water, forcing its owner, the R.I. Department of Transportation (RIDOT) to fence it off. “We have to do something with this property.”

The resolution would ask Sen. James Seveney of Portsmouth and Rep. Jay Edwards of Tiverton, the two state legislators who represent the area in which the abutment is located, to seek funding for the improvements. “They have promised they would take it to their respective finance chairs,” he said.

Vitkevich noted that Seveney first broached the idea of renovating the dilapidated area for use as a neighborhood recreation area back when he was a council member in March 2015. At the time, the council voted unanimously to study the feasibility of the idea, but made no commitment, financial or otherwise. 

Now six years later, the abutment is in even worse shape and desperately needs fixing, he said. Just look across the river to see what the finished product could look like, said Vitkevich, who displayed drone-shot video of both sides.

“The total cost to the Town of Tiverton was nothing,” he said, noting the bulk of the money to develop the park — roughly $3 million — came from state and federal funds. “They did raise $60,000 in fund-raising. That’s what their contribution was. Look how nice that is over in Tiverton.”

Vitkevich said Teddy’s Beach, which is immediately to the south of the abutment, also needs improvements and is often littered with trash. “The beach is in rough shape,” he said.

It’s unclear which state agency owns the beach — RIDOT or the R.I. Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) — but it’s not being properly maintained, he added.

Town Historian Jim Garman supported Vitkevich’s idea, saying it’s been sad to see the disintegration of the abutment, which is needed to slow the tide down. “If that basis was (wide) open, it would really be a mess,” Garman said.

The abutment has historical significance as well, he said. Since 1795, eight different bridges connected Tiverton and Portsmouth in the area, he said. Until the Mt. Hope Bridge opened in 1929, it was the only bridge off the island, Garman said.

“We deserve to covet what another town has done,” he said, referring to Tiverton’s development. 

Sean Smith, co-owner of 15 Point Road Restaurant on Park Avenue, which overlooks the abutment and beach, also supported the improvements. 

The trash in the area — some from the beach, some from people who fish off the abutment — has “really gotten out of hand,” he said. RIDEM says it’s responsible for just the nearby boat launch ramp, while RIDOT says it’s responsible for just the street, Smith said.

“It would be nice to have someone accountable for public property,” he said.

Takeover needed first

Town Administrator Richard Rainer, Jr., who last week toured the site along with Vitkevich, council member Keith Hamilton and former Tiverton Town Council member Patricia Hilton, said there’s one key difference between the Stone Bridge abutments in Portsmouth and Tiverton: The Town of Tiverton already owned its side, along with the adjacent Grinnell’s Beach. For Vitkevich’s idea to become reality, the Town of Portsmouth would have to first take over the property, he said.

That might not take much convincing, however.

“I think if you called (RIDOT Director) Peter Alviti tomorrow, he would tell you to take it,” Hamilton quipped.

The council must also be mindful that if the town took control over the area, it would be responsible for ongoing maintenance, Rainer said. “We don’t have a plan for that right now. There’s a commitment in manpower and financing to keep something like that,” he said.

The council voted 5-0 to have a resolution drawn up for consideration at the next meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 12.

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