An Eye on the Water
Last summer a Bristol man had a heart attack when the wake of a passing powerboat flipped his kayak into upper Narragansett Bay. After trying unsuccessfully to follow up with the Bristol harbormaster he began to ask questions: about patrols, enforcement and what role state and local officials play on the water. The fallout has led to changes in how things will be done this season on the water in Bristol as the Town Council is poised to choose a new harbormaster.
As one of the region's largest and best -protected harbors, Bristol harbor is a popular destination in the summertime for boaters.
But the harbor is only one of several areas that falls under the jurisdiction of the town's harbormaster. He's also responsible for the coastline south of Poppasquash Point, down to Colt State Park and the Town Beach.
And it was just south of there one August day last summer that a Bristol man and his friend launched their kayaks in the warm waters of upper Narragansett Bay. The trip came to abrupt halt just 10 minutes later when the wake of a power boat capsized them. The boat kept on going.
Marshall: ``All of a sudden I went into cardiac arrest.''
Mike Marshall said it happened while they were swimming to shore as the tide took them across the way to Barrington. Some other kayakers spotted the two and came over to help.
Marshall: ``I said I can't move my legs or my arms. The kayak brought us to the shore. My buddy had to physically pick me up out of the water and put me on the shore.''
Hummel: ``While that was going on, did you think at some point, `It's over'"?
Marshall:" ``Oh yes, I thought it was all over, nothing was moving.''
One of Barrington's harbormasters got a call and arrived within minutes - bringing Marshall to a waiting rescue. He spent eight days in intensive care. After he got out of the hospital Marshall wanted to know if they'd found the powerboat that had flipped his kayak.
His first call was to longtime Bristol Harbormaster Joe Cabral.
Marshall: ``If there've been any reports filed, if they're following through and all this type of thing. So I called the harbormaster's office on a Monday, on a Tuesday, on a Wednesday, I kept leaving a message saying I have to speak with you, it's very very important. And I told them who I was and everything else. Joe Cabral is married to my cousin, so he knows me very well. I never got a return phone call.''
He finally got Cabral's cell phone number from a friend.
Marshall: ``Thirteen days after the incident, and I asked him: `What have you found out, what do you know what's happening?' He told me this is the first he'd heard about it. I said: `Joe, it's been on the news, it's been in the paper.' This is the first I've heard about it.''
That would begin a quest by Marshall for answers. He found out dozens of others had also tried unsuccessfully to reach the harbormaster. Marshall's public persistence led to a shakeup in the office and questions about patrols, finances and enforcement - as the Town Council is poised to select a new harbormaster after Cabral, amidst the controversy, decided to retire last fall.
Marshall discovered that Cabral, even though he was listed as the harbormaster, in fact worked - and was paid - as a part timer. While his son-in-law Matt Calouro, was the assistant harbormaster and working full-time hours. Marshall says he was told Calouro, who is a finalist now for the top job, was assigned to patrol the area where his kayak had flipped over - but Calouro was out on worker's compensation when it happened.
Marshall: ``No one took his place to patrol the area. The area I was talking about is where the Bristol town Beach is, where all the kids play.''
Marshall has also been critical of the Department of Environmental Management for not having a greater presence on the water.
Marshall: ``I started peeling back the layers and I find out, when you're on the water it's like being on the Wild West. There is not one out there to protect you.''
But D.E.M.'s chief of enforcement Steven Hall, took issue with Marshall's assessment, saying his department got conflicting stories from Marshall in its subsequent investigation of the accident. The boat was never found.
And, Hall said, the department has 31 uniformed officers assigned to patrol and enforce commercial fishing regulations.
And while nothing may have prevented the circumstances surrounding Marshall's accident, it forced the town to take a closer look at the office and how it is structured. One change: the new harbormaster will be full-time and on call 24 hours a day.
A search committee headed by former councilman David Barboza narrowed an initial field of 18 down to nine and eventually to three finalists, who were interviewed in closed session by the council last week.
They include Calouro, who has been serving as interim harbormaster during the search process. He also is the part-time harbormaster for the town of Warren.
Another finalist is Greg Marsilli - the officer in charge of the Coast Guard station in Bristol.
And the third is David Sylvaria - captain in charge of two cruise lines for Blount Boats in Warren.
Since the search began, though, Calouro's brother Nathan was elected as one three new council members. So Nathan Calouro has rescued himself from the process.
Marshall, through numerous open records requests, found what he believes are financial irregularities in the office and has asked for the council to perform a forensic audit on an office that handles hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. The council last week referred Marshall's request to Town Administrator Antonia Texeira.
Council President Mary Parella tells the Hummel Report: ``It's very clear things will be done differently. I feel confident many of the issues that have been raised will be addressed.''
Hummel: ``When you start to poke around and you ask for a lot of documents - you're viewed as a pain in the neck; he's a gadfly, he's got an agenda.''
Marshall: ``I had an agenda.''
Hummel: ``You're guilty as charged?''
Marshall: ``Yeah, I'm guilty as charged. I have an agenda.''
Hummel: ``People are, oh there's Mike Marshall again.''
Marshall: ``Oh, no, I've had people thank me, more than one person has come up to me and said it's about time- that the guy has had a dynasty down there. I was looking for answers. I was looking for answers. Who was patrolling the waters and what's going on in the harbormaster's office, that no one is answering a call.''
It's a question that's led to some answers - but many additional questions.
Meanwhile the town council meets again in closed session May 22nd - and could have a decision that night on who will be the town's new harbormaster.
In Bristol, Jim Hummel for The Hummel Report.