By Matt Sheley
Daily News staff
NEWPORT — Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., visited Newport on Friday with a message: The City-by-the-Sea is open for a big Labor Day weekend.
Flanked by Newport City Manager Edward F. Lavallee and Newport County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jody Sullivan, Reed sought to dissuade anyone of the notion that Tropical Storm Irene shut down the area.
Under sunny skies, Reed meet with members of the local business community on the patio of the Hotel Viking on Bellevue Avenue. He said he is impressed by the resiliency of the people of Aquidneck Island, noting the weekend calendar of events includes an Irish music festival downtown, a regatta featuring classic yachts on Narragansett Bay and polo matches in Portsmouth.
“Newport is not only open for business, but with this spectacular weather, it’s about as good as it gets,” Reed said.
But not everyone across the Ocean State is as lucky.
“This has been a very difficult and trying few days with the hurricane,” Reed said. “There are still, unfortunately, Rhode Islanders without electricity and until we get everyone back to service, we cannot rest.”
Even though Irene caused less destruction on Aquidneck Island than in other parts of the state, the local impact was serious, Sullivan said.
“Newport County was fortunate not to have experienced extensive structural damage,” she said. “However, hospitality members were greatly impacted with the forced closing of their businesses for days during the peak of the summer season.”
In the aftermath of the tropical storm, Reed said he would push for an “after-action report” on the state’s response to Irene. The report would include what went well and where improvements could be made, he said. Based on his observations, there are some obvious questions that must be answered, he said.
“We need an after-action report that looks at what we can do to mitigate the effects of these storms,” Reed said. “Do we have to do more aggressive trimming of trees? Are there ways to harden facilities, substations? Are there ways to harden transmission lines?”
The report would provide cost estimates for such upgrades, he said, and then it would be up to the public to decide the next steps. But to fail to act or to learn from Irene and other natural disasters is not an option, he said.
“If we don’t do that, then we have spent a lot of money for some schooling and we’ve forgotten the lessons,” Reed said. “I want to remember these lessons.”
Lavallee agreed, saying although the city fared relatively well, improvements could always be made before the next big storm hits. Noting that National Grid continued working to restore power to some customers days after Irene, Lavallee said it might be time to consider upgrades to that infrastructure.
“We have to really take a hard look at whether or not the continuing degradation of some of these lines that support all our communities need to be looked at in a different way,” he said. “It’s an economic issue as well as a practical and aesthetic one.”
As a parting statement, Reed asked visitors to Aquidneck Island and the rest of Rhode Island to keep one thing in mind.
“If you see something you like, buy it,” Reed said, drawing laughter from the crowd. “We need the help. We’ll take it gracefully and cheerfully.”
The Newport Daily News 09/03/2011