More than four dozen residents, legislators and town officials, representing all sides of the political spectrum, turned out for the Tiverton STOP launch meeting on Thursday night.
Political affiliations aside, Tiverton residents can agree on one thing: stop tolling on the Sakonnet River Bridge.
"This is a nonpartisan effort," said Jay Lambert, Town Council president. "There are no partisan issues that I'm aware of. These are issues of fairness and economic reality, but those issues are not Democratic, they are not Republican they are not independent."
Mediated by Lambert, the meeting was an organizational kickoff meeting for Tiverton residents to meet, sign up to volunteer and to establish leadership plans for each of the group's 10 subcommittees.
"The important thing here is that you have to resist the feeling that this is inevitable and that we will not be able stop this thing," said Robert Coulter, a Town Council member. "We really can succeed at this if we all work together."
With the help of residents Lambert identified 10 subcommittees to break up the groundwork needed in Tiverton to focus the fight against the tolls:
- Evironmental Impact Subcommittee
- Economic Impact Subcommittee
- Solutions Subcommittee
- Resolutions Subcommittee - to stay on top of resolutions and efforts made in surrounding East Bay communities.
- Petitions Subcommittee
- Letter Writing Subcommittee
- Liaison Subcommittee - to the nine other Sakonnet Toll Opposition Platform groups.
- Legislative Liaison Subcommittee - to work with the state Department of Transportation (RIDOT), the state Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) and with legislators.
- Realtors Subcommittee - to investigate effects on property values and lobby support from surrounding communities.
Anyone who wishes to participate and share ideas should contact the group via email at TivertonSTOP@gmail.com.
Tiverton STOP is one of 10 components groups represented under the Sakonnet Toll Opposition Platform umbrella.
Larry Fitzmorris, of the Portsmouth Concerned Citizens is leading the Sakonnet Toll Oppostion Platform's (STOP) parent organization. The 21-member board includes representatives from each of the STOP subgroups and represents 10 East Bay and state-wide organizations and communities.
"This is a clearing house for information," he said. Under the STOP umbrella, the goals are to reduce redundancies and focus a pointed battle against the installation of open-road tolling on the bridge locally and on Smith Hill.
"Somebody has to provide the strategic view and the effect among communities," said Fitzmorris. "We have crossover organizations where we have to draw in people from one community to another and closely engage with the respective councils."
Tiverton STOP does not have a follow-up meeting scheduled yet. The committee's chairwoman, Tiverton resident and businesswoman Chee Laureano, is encouraging all residents to sign the petition against the tolls and begin writing personalized letters about the individual impact of tolls on citizens and families to the governor and to local legislators. She asks that a copy of these letters be forwarded to Tiverton STOP at TivertonSTOP@gmail.com.
A template letter is available through emailing Tiverton STOP or residents may pick up a hard copy at the Town Hall, 343 Highland Road.
"Our goal is to reverse the decision to toll the Sakonnet River Bridge and to reverse the decision to transfer ownership of the Sakonnet River Bridge to the RITBA," said Laureano. "They have to know that we won't back down. This is serious. We need help. We could use an accountant, engineers, Realtors, business owners, local economic people and citizens who will volunteer in any way that they can to help gain more letters, petitions, or if they have relatives with connections to politicians to put pressure on the other side of the state."
Tiverton STOP is a community-sponsored organization and is not sponsored by the town.