JOHNSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Johnston residents who live near the Oak Swamp Reservoir say they’ve always used the lake to boat and fish. Now, lakefront property owners say they want the lake all to themselves, and they have the mayor on their side.
Those with lakefront homes say they’re tired of people trespassing on their property, but taxpayers say they should have access since the lake is owned by the town.
Arlene Parisella has owned property mere steps away from the reservoir for more than a decade, but she just found out her neighbors want to form an association and block access to anyone who doesn’t live on the water.
“We’ve had water rights for all of that time,” said Parisella. “I don’t understand it. The town of Johnston owns the lake.”
Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena agrees with the lakefront property owners, saying he too wants to restrict access.
“I’m just trying to minimize the liability,” he said Wednesday. “We’re concerned with people going up there, whether they put in kayaks or canoes or motor boats or small boats. If they drown, the town is liable. Restricting who can go in there, I think it helps us tremendously with our insurance.”
The town installed a fence on the dam at the lake last month as part of a cleanup and remediation project. Now, Polisena is promising to install fencing around the lake’s access roads.
“People who live around the lake pay a higher tax than those who don’t live on the lake,” the mayor added.
Parisella believes the dollar amount on her tax bill shouldn’t be a factor.
“We all pay taxes here,” she said. “This is just not right. It really is not right.”
A spokesperson for the not-yet-formed lake association echoed the mayor’s safety and liability concerns, noting that there’s no public beach or parking on the lake.