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The Beaver River Valley Community Association was founded in 2018 by concerned property owners and residents for the purpose of protecting the rural character and historic and natural resources that define our community.  Read more...

Our beautiful town is being threatened by the encroachment of industrial-scale, commercial solar installations by developers.   We must work together to protect our scenic vistas, open fields, farmlands and cultural landscapes.  Read more...

IMPORTANT UPDATE!

At Wildlife Clinic, Springtime is Crunch Time

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

May 12th 2024

SAUNDERSTOWN – The Wildlife Clinic of Rhode Island is the only place in the state that treats and rehabilitates wild animals and birds. Spring is always the busiest season at the clinic, which has been operating since 1993.

Executive Director, William Morrissette, has been at the clinic since Oct., 2023, replacing Kristin Fletcher, who retired.

“Our spring rush started about four weeks ago,” he explained. “We’ve had 400 babies already, so we’re averaging about 100 babies a week, and a lot of them need to be fed every two hours, never mind the medication and that type of thing, so the staff is really pushed to their limits with the babies, and this is going to go on all the way through the summer into fall.”

 

The Clinic

 

Blaine Hymel, who began working at the clinic as a volunteer in 2013 and is now the principal veterinarian, gave a tour of the clinic, pointing out the features of the facility, as well as the challenges of caring for so many diverse species.

One treatment protocol is quarantine – a separate room where birds are kept until they are diagnosed or found to be healthy. Hymel explained that these measures are becoming increasingly necessary, as viruses, like bird flu, threaten native wildlife populations.

“Right now, since 2022, avian influenza, the highly-pathogenic version, has been going around and so, at least for our highly suspect guys, to have a chance, we can keep them in here until we have tests back,” she said.

Once the samples are collected, someone drives the samples up to Tufts University in Massachusetts, where the tests are performed free of charge.

That “someone” is usually Hymel.

“I have been driving them up for the last two months, yes,” she says with a laugh. “They’re really great. They’re testing for free for HPAI [highly pathogenic avian influenza] as well as for COVID in some animals.”

 

The surgical facility is heavily-used and well-equipped.

“We have full autoclave, full surgery,” Hymel said. “We can do orthopedic surgery here, amputations, things like that, lacerations, and we’re pretty adaptable here. Our anesthesia unit, we can adapt for either small or large animals, so a baby squirrel or a river otter, we can set it up for both of those appropriately.”

Decisions are made on the care of each arriving patient in the intake area.

“This is where I spend most of my day,” Hymel said. “Everything that comes in will get triage, looked at by me or one of our staff.”

The clinic also has an intensive care unit and another, special unit just for rabies vector species; foxes, skunks, raccoons, woodchucks and bats.

 

 

A New Home

 

The little clinic that began in a garage has grown into a sizeable operation. In 2018, the facility moved from cramped quarters in a veterinary clinic to a large house, purchased by former clinic veterinarian, Chi Chan, on five acres of land.

“It started 31 years ago in a one-car garage and then went to a slightly bigger facility with Dr. [Meredith] Bird and then came to this facility,” Morrissette explained. “We were just on the first floor of this house originally, and then expanded, breaking at the seams, and then, we’ve taken over the whole home and we’ve got caging throughout the property. Again, it’s victims of our own success. The more people know about us, the more animals come in, the more space you need.”

 

The Funding

 

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management subsidizes the clinic’s veterinary services with a $100,000 annual allocation, but Morrissette said most of the funds to operate the clinic come from foundations and private donors, including businesses.

“Emergency vets are running $177,000 plus full benefits, so we’re not paying competitive wages, but this is kind of an act of love,” he said. “We have 125 volunteers, and then there are product donations that come in, people that are donating all the feed and that type of thing, so cash-wise, our budget is at about $550,000 right now, but if you look at what it costs to operate this facility, if you had to pay staff and all the volunteers, you’d be at a million dollars.”

Morrissette described fund raising for the clinic as a never-ending task.

“We don’t have a big endowment or anything like that, so just trying to provide the services,” he said. “The biggest challenge is cash flow. We need more staffing, we need more reserves so we can weather big challenges that present. Another big challenge is, this is a home. It wasn’t meant to be a commercial property, so we need much more funding for building maintenance. … We’ve been here six years. I just wrote a grant because we need a well, because our well is not producing as much water as we need.”

 

The clinic has 11 paid staff members and about 125 volunteers, who compensate, to a large extent, for the lack of government funding.

“It is very robust,” Morrissette said, referring to the volunteer group. “I’ve been in non - profit management for 26 years, and to have the type of volunteers that we have here, a lot of organizations will have volunteers and they kind of do odds and end things, you know, but you need the staff at the core. … The organization would not operate without these volunteers. You couldn’t operate 365 days a year. You couldn’t take every animal that presents.”

The clinic’s staff and volunteers do a bit of everything. Outside, in one of the larger enclosures, volunteers had gone to purchase sod and were laying it down, not for a lawn, but to make a river otter more comfortable.

Running a clinic that is open every day of the year takes a lot of people.

“We have about 75 in-clinic volunteers, because we’re open 365 days a year, so volunteers are here every day, feeding, watering, doing all of that.,” Morrissette said. “Then we have a transport network of volunteers, … so that if there’s an animal that’s injured or whatnot, and the person can’t get it here, it’s after hours, the transport network is going and getting the animals, getting them to the home rehabbers. We have about 25 home rehabbers.”

Morrissette also noted, however, that some animals require expensive, specialized veterinary care and medications.

“That’s our biggest challenge, is that we, like any other veterinary practice, there’s new technologies that come out and different medicines and treatments, so how do you balance improving your medical facility and building those technologies and that knowledge without having the funding to do that?”

 

A Few Statistics

 

Encounters with humans usually end badly for wild animals and birds. Hit by cars, their nests destroyed by lawnmowers or tree work, or poisoned by consuming rodents that have eaten rodenticide bait, the clinic receives victims of all of those situations, and because it is the only resource of its kind in Rhode Island, they come from all over the state.

In 2023, the clinic received 4,416 patients, but many more went directly to rehabilitators, all of whom must be licensed by the state.

One of the clinic’s patients, a barred owl, is the victim of a collision with an unknown object. The large bird of prey rests on a perch in a cage, and appears to be recovering.

“We’re treating him for some sort of collision, whether he ran into something, not quite sure, but he is healing nicely, I will say,” Hymel said. “His wounds are coming along very nicely.”

In the “rabies vector unit,” fox kits rest behind a curtain. In another enclosure, a litter of baby raccoons huddle together, soothed by a stuffed panda that emits the sound of a heartbeat.

Hymel explained that this unit must comply with an additional layer of regulations, because certain animal species can carry rabies.

“They are required by law to be double barricaded, so both those doors are locked,” she explained. “We have certain staff and volunteers that can work with them, and in Rhode Island, you have to undergo training for three years before being able to get your rabies vector species licensing, as well as the rabies shots too, which are quite pricey.”

Downstairs, at the feeding station, rehabilitators care for litters of animal babies.

, of West Warwick, is hand-feeding baby eastern gray squirrels, her specialty.

“I do every species, but I do lots and lots of squirrels,” she said, as the hungry baby continued to feed. “This year, we had a lot more help than usual, so I topped out at around 30 squirrels, but one year, I did 150, all by myself.”

It will be a couple more weeks before the squirrels are weaned, and then they will be transferred to a pre-release cage, where they will learn how to eat wild foods, like nuts. They’ll be released when they’re 14 weeks old.

Hymel walks over, carrying a box containing baby red squirrels.

“We got three baby red squirrels in today too, who are super cute and going home with one of our rehabbers tonight,” she said.

There is also a litter of baby opossums, whose mother was killed.

“These just came in,” Hymel said. “We believe Mom was hit by a car. … The babies were there, and so we weren’t able to save mom, but these will go home with one of our rehabbers as well.”

Hymel pointed out an aquarium housing a painted turtle whose shell was severely crushed. Hymel mended the turtle’s shell with metal tape and superglue and covered the repairs with a coating of protective beeswax, which will be removed before the turtle is released. 

Releasing animals and birds back into the wild is always the desired outcome, for both the patient and the rehabbers, and an effort is made to release the animal at or close to the place where it was found.

“There’s something about raising these animals, or recovering them from something serious that they wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild on their own - us intervening and helping them, and then seeing them actually go back and be free is just remarkable,” Hymel said. “I love the releasing aspect, and I love kind of what we do, just being able to give everything a chance.”

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BRVCA council municipal court vote 050824

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Council Approves Municipal Court

 

By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

May 10th 2024

RICHMOND – Richmond is getting its own municipal court.

At a public hearing during the May 8 meeting, members of the Town Council voted, with Helen Sheehan and Michael Colasante opposed, to approve ordinance amendments to allow the town to establish its own municipal court.

Although the council has discussed the matter at length at previous meetings, Colasante raised questions about the impact such a court might have on residents, since it will be hearing not only police matters but cases involving zoning violations.

“What I have an issue with this is, you have somebody from New York that comes down, they have a Mercedes that they  park in their driveway, and you have somebody that’s been living in town for 35 years,” he said. “We know that a lot of people cut firewood in this town. You see it piled up. It’s in non-commercial areas, non-business areas, so that person driving in the $125,000 Mercedes can also now make a potential problem to this person that’s been living in this town for 35 years, making a few bucks, splitting a little bit of firewood and selling it. Now, all of a sudden, all right? there’s a potential now that that person knows that there’s an avenue to get this person in trouble and to get a cease and desist about this guy who’s been doing it for 35 years, cutting firewood That’s the problem we have in a very rural town.”

Councilor Samantha Wilcox suggested that Colasante’s statement appeared to resemble his own situation, in which he was charged with a zoning violation for operating his sawmill, “Buttonwoods Sawmill and Betta Burn Firewood Inc.,” in a residential zone.

“That sounds awfully familiar to the case Councilor Colasante has pending,” she said.

Colasante replied that there is no pending case against him.

(The Beaver River Valley Community Association has filed a Public Records Request asking for information regarding the zoning violation, and is awaiting a response from the town.)

After listening to additional questions about what the court might end up costing the town, Council Vice President Richard Nassaney said,

“None of this has to do with money, not one iota of money. This all has to do with holding people responsible. It doesn’t matter if you split wood or a rock. …Whether you’ve lived here for a year, six months, or 40 years. If you’re breaking our ordinances, you need to be held accountable, period. It doesn’t matter if the town makes a penny or a million dollars off of it.”

Council President Mark Trimmer has described the establishment of the court as a trial, to see whether it is good for the town.

Reached after the meeting, Wilcox said that it would not be a trial but instead, ordinance amendments that could always be changed.

“The Municipal Court is not a trial, it's a live set of ordinances that will be in effect until they are amended or removed,” she stated in an email. “I'm excited for this change. Residents will have recourse for their concerns and the town will be able to hold those in violation of our local laws accountable.”

Wilcox also addressed the subject of the new court’s financial impact on the town.

“Although we will not lose money, a municipal court will not make us a substantial amount of money either,” she said. “The fees collected from violations would offset the costs associated leaving us revenue neutral. Public services are not about making money, it's about serving the public and that's what this does.”

 

Other Business

 

Dental Benefits

 

The council approved a proposal, by outgoing Finance Director Laura Kenyon, to allocate $4,900 from the town’s wage contingency budget to enhancing the town employees’ dental plan. The improvements, which would include a 20% co-pay, would bring the benefit in line with the dental plan for the town’s police officers.

 

Town Hall Carpet

 

Town Administrator Karen Pinch asked the council to approve the awarding of a contract for the purchase and installation of new Town Hall carpet to NSI Clean Worldwide Inc.

“It came in much lower than I had been given an estimate, which made me a little nervous,” she said. “They’re in New York.”

After checking the company’s references and receiving carpet samples which were of higher quality than the next-lowest bidder, Pinch said she wanted to award the contract to NSI for $26,582. But since that bid was so much lower than she had expected, Pinch said she had added an additional $4,000 to have the company move the furniture, which would have otherwise been assigned to the Department of Public Works. The final price is $30,582, still considerably below the original estimate, which was $56,000.

 

Capital Strategy and Tax Payments

 

Wilcox proposed, and the council approved, a long - term strategy for capital improvement projects.

“The purpose of this is to have a list that we can draw off of when there are funding opportunities,” she said.

Colasante stated that the town already has a five-year capital improvement plan, but Kenyon responded that the new proposal would go beyond five years and include town departments, boards and commissions which might be considering proposals that they had not brought into the budgeting process because they were wishes rather than necessities.

“We don’t know what’s out there for requests unless they are brought to staff for us to evaluate, so it’s more a matter of letting everyone know that you’re trying to get more projects into the capital projects plan,” Kenyon said.

 

Tax Payments

 

Wilcox asked the council to consider holding a special council meeting on May 21 at 5:30 p.m. to provide additional privacy to residents who have reached tax payment agreements with the town.

“It’ll really just help the people who are in that situation to have a little bit more privacy – as much as you can in a public situation,” she said.

Councilor Sheehan noted that the tax agreements had already been made with the town and could therefore be included in the consent agenda.

Wilcox said either way would work for her, and the council voted to add the agreements to the consent agenda.

School Construction Bond Fails

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

May 8th 2024

RICHMOND – The Chariho school construction bond has failed. Richmond voters narrowly defeated it, Hopkinton soundly defeated it and Charlestown strongly supported it.

The question was whether the School District should borrow up to $150 million, with significant reimbursement from the state, for the construction of three new elementary schools and improvements to the main campus.

 

The Vote Counts

 

Charlestown was the only Chariho town where “yes” votes outnumbered “no” votes.

829 yes to 330 no, with 31 mail ballots

 

Richmond had the closest vote, but there are 29 mail ballots still to be counted:

798 no and 782 yes.

 

In Hopkinton, with 60 mail ballots counted:

705 yes and 1,278 no.

 

The School Committee voted last January to require each Chariho town to approve the bond in order for it to pass, and two towns rejected it – Hopkinton by a significant margin.

 

School Committee Chair Catherine Giusti, a resident of Hopkinton, said the result was not surprising.

“It was a lot to ask of them, and I’m not taking this as a sign that the town of Hopkinton does not support education,” she said.

“I’m taking it as a sign that we need to go back to the drawing board and figure out a more palatable way to support Chariho.”

 

Chariho Superintendent of Schools Gina Picard said the district would now “regroup,” and decide how to move forward following the referendum defeat, although the process of closing Hope Valley Elementary School, a measure opposed by many Hopkinton residents, has already begun with the closing of kindergarten in September and is expected to continue in the coming years until the school is shuttered altogether.

“In the face of adversity, we remain steadfast in our commitment to providing the best education for our children,” Picard said in an emailed statement. “While the bond may have been rejected, we view this as an opportunity to regroup, reassess, and emerge stronger. Our resolve remains unshaken as we embark on a new journey, forging a fresh path toward securing the resources our schools need to thrive. Together, with renewed determination and community support, we will craft a new plan that reflects our shared values and aspirations for our children's future.”

 

Giusti reflected on the division and acrimony that preceded the vote.

“I think what got lost in this entire debate was the fact that we have aging school buildings that we need to figure out how we’re going to maintain, and all of that got lost and every other issue that bothers people got brought up, and what I think this shows is, Hopkinton is very angry, but I don’t think it’s about just one thing,” she said. “I think that what the old guard Hopkinton is angry with is, they see the community changing and they do not want the community to change.”

Steady Traffic at Town Hall Polling Station

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

May 7th 2024

RICHMOND – After months of debate, and considerable social media misinformation, voters in Richmond headed to the Town Hall to vote in the Chariho bond referendum.

Along with residents of Hopkinton and Charlestown, they were deciding the fate of the proposed bond, up to $150 million, to replace the school district’s four elementary schools with three new school buildings.

That “school consolidation” plan would entail closing Hope Valley Elementary School, a move opposed by Hopkinton residents.

 

The Scene at the Town Hall

 

There was light but steady voter traffic on Tuesday morning at the Town Hall polling station. Two groups, one supporting the bond and the other opposed, stood in the grass behind the parking lot, respecting  the legally-required distance from the poll.

 

On one side, was Jessica Purcell, Richmond School Committee member and pro-bond campaigner who has devoted countless hours to explaining the bond and why voters should support it.

Purcell said she interpreted the steady voter traffic as a good sign.

“It's a beautiful day at the polls, not just because of the sunny warm weather but because there seems to be a steady stream of voters, including both of my children's teachers who crossed the street to vote this morning,” she said. “I just can't express how much I appreciate our schools and want the best for these kids, and the next generation. I walk through those hallways and attend Chariho events on a regular basis, and the sense of community is inspiring. It drives me to work hard in service of the public good that a Chariho education provides not just to students but to our towns as well.” 

With a sick child at home and her regular job to attend to, Purcell said she would be heading home soon and another bond supporter, Joyce Flanagan, would be replacing her.

“I've actually got one kid at home with strep today, along with work obligations so I can't stay all day but I'm grateful to everyone that engaged in this important conversation about the future of our school buildings and voted for what they think is best. Regardless of the outcome, I've done my best to engage and inform folks, I remain hopeful, and I know that the work is never done,” she said.

 

Across the lawn, several bond opponents stood, holding signs.

Rhonda Wasilewski said voters had not paused to talk after voting.

“Not, really,” she said. “A few people gave the thumbs up, so I assume they were voting no.”

Goldie Williams, carrying a sign, joined the group.

“This school doesn’t need to be done,” she said, gesturing toward Richmond Elementary School across the road. “The roof was done three to five years ago, not done right, according to Mr. [Ned] Draper. … And, we’ll be paying more taxes than we would be paying if we just did the repair.”

Tom Marron said he had many reasons for opposing the bond.

“It’s fiscally irresponsible,” he said. “The whole campaign has been nefarious. They’ve been pushing this whole thing without answering questions, without providing data. The data has been misleading. It’s a scam.”

Janet Tefft was the fourth member of the opposition group.

“I’m here to support the Republicans who are trying to get the town to follow even the proposed budgets that are put out,” she said. “An example would be, the state says the town has to contribute 10% a year to the maintenance of buildings and if you look at what was spent versus what should have been budgeted, the two are even half of what should have been spent, yet you have the superintendent crying, ‘we need drainage systems. The rain is coming into these buildings,’ and  what is the reason? You’ve only spent half the budgeted money on repairs. … A choice has been made to let these schools go down, and then, they want new schools.”

 

The Vote

Early voting began on April 17 and ended May 6. In order for the bond to pass, voters in each of the three towns must approve it. This change, proposed by Hopkinton School Committee member Tyler Champlin, was approved by the School Committee in a unanimous vote at the Jan. 9, 2024 committee meeting.

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A “Magical” Fish:  The Effort Continues to Protect Native Brook Trout

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

May 4th 2024

Fresh water fishing season has begun in Rhode Island, but as anglers crowd the banks of streams and ponds to reel in stocked hatchery trout, in quieter waters, the native Eastern Brook Trout persist.

 

The Eastern Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) grows to only about eight inches in Rhode Island because of limited habitat, but for many, it is still an iconic fish. Rhode Island’s wild trout are surviving, despite pressure from habitat alteration, competition from the larger, hatchery fish and warming water.

 

Todd Corayer, angler, outdoors writer and member of the Rhode Island Chapter Board of Trout Unlimited, said the brook trout, or “brookie,” as it is often called, is Rhode Island’s only remaining native, freshwater species.

“They’re captivating, because they’re a wild fish that exists among us, and we humans have done everything in our power to injure their populations and degrade their home waters,” he said. “They’re gorgeous. They’re absolutely beautiful fish, and I’ll also say this: The big circle of striper fishermen, tuna fishermen, guys that like to catch big fish, … there are few things as humbling as a person catching a brook trout that fits in the palm of their hand.”

Jim Turek, the Richmond Conservation Commission Chairman and a restoration ecologist, described native brook trout as indicators of a healthy ecosystem.

“They’re the canary in the coal mine,” he said. “We’re getting more and more challenge with climate change, but that [river] system, it is a groundwater - controlled site, so it’s got cold water base flows to some extent.”

Brook trout may be iconic, but they are also elusive. DEM fisheries biologist Corey Pelletier has been surveying native brook trout for several years, but he still hasn’t been able to determine how many there are, because the fish are so mobile.

“It’s really hard to gather a sense of if we’re declining in population size, because there’s such annual fluctuation,” he said. “When you survey them, you go to one spot, say, three years in a row and looking at different size classes of fish, so  you’re looking at what you have for juveniles that year and what you have for adult size classes. And the numbers just vary from year to year so much in that one single location.”

 

Where the Brook Trout Live

 

Charlestown resident Brian O’Connor is passionate about brook trout and is one of the founding members of the advocacy group, Protect Rhode Island Brook Trout.

On a sunny day in late April, he led a tour of rivers and streams, pointing out the places where native trout habitat is compromised.  

One of the biggest threats to native trout is warming water.

Groundwater is cold and oxygen-rich when it enters streams, but the hundreds of dams throughout the watershed, more than 200 at last count, create impoundments – standing water that warms before it flows downstream.

“The state is well aware of thermal pollution and the problems that these impoundments in the headwaters are causing,” O’Connor said. “The temperature of the water in the summer is increasing, and the duration of time that the hot water is in the streams is also increasing.”

Native trout look for places, known as “thermal refuges,” where the water is cooler and they will swim for miles to reach them.

“This is now the determining factor of population size,” O’Connor said. “How many fish can find thermal refuge throughout the summer.”

Pelletier recently completed a research study that tracked the survival of brook trout that moved from water that had become too warm, 74 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer, to thermal refuges.

“We found that brook trout had to move, sometimes significant distances, to find colder water to support them through those stressful periods of the summer,” he said.

Pelletier found no trout present in water that was 75 degrees or warmer.

 

Breakheart Pond and the Upper Wood River

 

O’Connor pointed out two areas of particular concern: Breakheart Pond and the Upper Wood River.

Created by the state as a place to dispose of fallen trees after the 1938 hurricane, Breakheart Pond is large – about 44 acres. It is also heavily stocked with hatchery fish.

“They put this fish ladder in, we don’t know whether they thought brook trout could go up and down that thing or not, but it’s been failed for eons of time, and the state fills this pond with hatchery fish and this entire stream is just lousy with hatchery fish, so the brook trout population that existed above and below have been disconnected from one another since 1939, close to 100 years,” O’Connor said.

At the Upper Wood River, O’Connor worries that heavy foot traffic on the banks has eroded the soil, allowing sediment to cover the gravel river bed that native trout require.

This section of river, he said, is critical native trout habitat.

“The main stem of the Upper Wood River has the coldest water and the largest volume of that cold water known to exist anywhere,” he said. “So, it was always thought, oh, the tributaries is where the brook trout hide out and the hatchery fish don’t go up there. That’s their safe refuge. Well, that’s no longer the case. The safe refuge is now the most fished and heavily-stocked section of river in the State of Rhode Island.”

 

The Stocking Debate

 

Meeting the demand for stocked trout while managing wild brook trout is challenging, and it has been equally challenging for conservation and fishing organizations and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management to reach a consensus on what should be done.

In July 2021, conservationists, including Turek and O’Connor, rejoiced when DEM announced that it was no longer stocking trout in the Beaver River. The river was also designated catch and release only.

“We were able to turn the Beaver River into a non-stocking river, and you know what?” Turek said. “The good thing about that whole thing is, I see hardly anybody. On Opening Day, I don’t think there was anybody down the Beaver River. Why? Those stocked fish are 12 to 15-inch fish. They want to catch these big fish.”

Pelletier said one of the benefits of stocking hatchery fish is that their large size makes them more desirable to most anglers than wild fish.

“I think that’s a point that goes unnoticed and is important, because people go and are happy catching these fish and they can take them home to eat them and it’s all good and well,” he said.

The Falls River, in the Arcadia Management Area, is the only other river in the state, so far, to be designated catch and release.

Recently, however, conservationists have set their sights on the Upper Wood River, and they are asking DEM to stop stocking the river to reduce the pressure on native trout. Hatchery trout that aren’t caught by anglers don’t live very long, because they are not adapted to surviving in the wild. But while they are in the water with native brook trout, they crowd the much smaller wild fish and even eat the juveniles, known as “young of the year.”

Conservation groups, including Trout Unlimited, Protect Rhode Island Brook Trout and the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture, are working together to come up with a strategy to protect Rhode Island’s wild trout, but that hasn’t always been the case.

“That’s a real, real big testament to getting everybody together and everybody on the same page,” said Trout Unlimited Rhode Island President, Glenn Place. “… Everybody was just kind of floating out there in the stratosphere and it just took a couple of phone calls and a couple of emails to bring everybody together, because our Rhode Island Chapter is working more the conservation angle. We’re all doing conservation.”

Place noted that Trout Unlimited supports the effort to end stocking in the Upper Wood River.

“The Wood River, that would be our legacy project, to do something with the Wood,” he said.

 

It’s Not Whether You Stock, but Where

 

Turek says he has no objection to hatchery fish being stocked in waterbodies that don’t have native trout already living there.

“I understand that there is a portion of our population that likes the recreational fish and they’re fine with catching hatchery trout. I don’t have any issue with that,” he said. “It’s a matter of where the hatchery trout get put in. … Browning Mill Pond – I live right across the street from it. That’s the kind of place, I have no issue with those going in. Why? Because there’s so many invasive fishes already in there, and invasive plants.”

Corayer believes the focus of trout management in Rhode Island should shift from recreation to conservation.

“I believe we have a responsibility to protect wild fish like brookies,” he said. “I don’t believe we have a responsibility to stock ponds for a put and take fishery. We owe those fish from centuries of neglect and abuse. And I firmly believe that our state would be far better served by teaching people about the beauty of our natural surroundings and the potential to catch a gorgeous brook trout in the woods or along the side of the road as opposed to just dumping fish in a pond and letting them succumb to predation and starvation.”

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Ethics Commission Dismisses Ethics Complaint Against Colasante

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

May 1st 2024

PROVIDENCE – The Rhode Island Ethics Commission voted on Tuesday morning to dismiss a complaint against Town Council member Michael Colasante.

The vote, announced by commission Chair Marisa Quinn, was unanimous.

Chief Prosecutor Jason Grammit later explained that the commission members had voted 6-0 to dismiss the complaint.

“The Commission held a probable cause hearing today, and they voted unanimously to find that there was not probable cause to believe that he had violated the Code [of Ethics] as alleged in the complaint,” he said.

 

The Complaint

 

Filed by council Vice President Richard Nassaney in Nov. 2023, the complaint alleged that Colasante had an ongoing business relationship with D’ Ambra Construction Company Inc., when he voted to award a paving contract to D’ Ambra.

After that contract was awarded, a truck from Richmond Sand and Stone, a company associated with D’ Ambra, delivered material for a retaining wall to Colasante’s property.

D’ Ambra trucks were observed on the Colasante property on Oct. 13, and at the Oct. 17 Town Council meeting, Colasante voted to award a second paving contract to D’ Ambra.

Nassaney’s complaint states that on Oct. 18, the day after the second paving contract was awarded to D’ Ambra, workers from that company were observed at Colasante’s Buttonwoods Road property “installing the retaining wall material and grading his property for a future driveway.”

 

The Decision to Dismiss

 

The commission’s Investigative Report, written by Prosecutor Katherine D’ Arezzo, states that the investigation found no evidence of a business relationship between the Respondent, Michael Colasante, and D’ Ambra Construction.

“The Respondent and Michael V. D' Ambra, founder and Executive Vice President of D' Ambra Construction, both denied

there being any business dealings between the Respondent and the corporation,” the report states. “Further, investigative subpoenas served upon the Respondent, Buttonwoods Sawmill, and D' Ambra Construction yielded no records of any business dealings between the parties.”

 

Colasante did, however, have a business relationship with Ready Mix LLC, which performed the work on his Buttonwoods Road property.

Ready Mix is jointly owned by three D’ Ambra trusts, and David D’ Ambra is the operating and general manager of both Ready Mix and Richmond Sand and Stone.

“At the time he hired David D' Ambra and Ready Mix, the Respondent was not aware that any D’ Ambra vehicles would be utilized at his property,” the report states. “The Respondent suggested that David D' Ambra's company might be utilizing equipment previously owned by D' Ambra Construction.”

The investigation revealed that D’ Ambra Construction had submitted the lowest bid for both Richmond paving jobs, and that Town Administrator Karen Pinch recommended that the council vote to hire the company.

At the Aug. 15, 2023 Town Council meeting, members voted to award the North Road paving contract to D’ Ambra Construction for $468,000.

A couple of months later, the council, at the Oct. 17, 2023 meeting, voted to award the second contract, for paving Tug Hollow Road, to D’ Ambra Construction for $587,000.

The investigation found no evidence that Ready Mix, the company working at Colasante’s property, was involved in the paving contract bids.

“The Respondent's participation in the Council's August 15, 2023 and October 17, 2023 votes to award the paving bids to D' Ambra Construction did not financially impact Ready Mix, the Respondent's business associate,” the report states. “Ready Mix was in no way involved with the paving bids awarded to

D' Ambra Construction, nor did Ready Mix appear before the

Town Council.

Some of the equipment observed on Colasante’s property was identified with the D’ Ambra logo, but actually belonged to Ready Mix.

 

The report concludes,

“… the Respondent is a business associate of Ready Mix, with which he engaged in a business transaction to perform services at his sawmill property. Michael V. D' Ambra is a business associate of both Ready Mix, in his capacity as trustee for an LLC

owner/member, and D' Ambra Construction. However, the Respondent is not joined together with Michael V. D' Ambra individually to achieve a common financial objective,

nor is there any independent financial nexus between the Respondent and D 'Ambra Construction, Michael V. D' Ambra's business associate.

 

Nassaney had only a brief comment after the commission’s vote, saying only,

“The Ethics Commission did their job and I’m grateful for their service.”

 

The Second Complaint

 

The investigation continues into the second complaint against Colasante, filed by council President Mark Trimmer.

That complaint, filed in Sept. 2023, pertains to Colasante’s business relationship with former Electrical Inspector, Jeffrey Vaillancourt.

The complaint states that while Vaillancourt was doing electrical work at Colasante’s sawmill on Buttonwoods Road, Colasante declined to recuse himself from two disciplinary hearings on Vaillancourt’s behavior and that Colasante participated in the hearings and also voted.

Referring to Trimmer’s complaint, Grammit said,

“The other complaint is still pending and the investigation is ongoing.”

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Divisions Deepen as Bond Referendum Approaches

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

April 26th 2024

RICHMOND – In the days leading up to the Chariho bond referendum, it’s impossible to escape the chatter.

In the trenches of social media, between the posts about runaway dogs, potholes and garden soil, supporters and opponents of the Chariho school bond are doing battle.

On Thursday, there was a new offensive; a Facebook post announcing that Richmond and Hopkinton had formed an alliance and were working together to defeat the bond.

Adorned with a photo of Richmond Town Council President Mark Trimmer on the right and another of Hopkinton council President Mike Geary on the left, the post states that the towns are united against “the school MEGA-bond.”

 

The Bond

 

Early voting is already underway, with the referendum on the proposed bond on May 7

The proposed school construction plan calls for the consolidation of the district’s four elementary schools into three new elementary schools. The fourth school, Hope Valley Elementary, would close.

Proponents of the plan point to declining enrollment and aging school buildings and ask why Hopkinton should have two elementary schools when the other towns have one each.

Opponents warn that the bond, up to $150 million, would increase the tax burden on the towns and would probably end up with cost overruns. They are also fighting the closure of Hope Valley School, which they say is unnecessary and would be unfair to Hope Valley families. Whether or not voters approve the bond, Hope Valley school will close in the coming years, and 2024-25 kindergarten registration at the school has already been canceled.

A vocal opposition group has been working to sway public opinion, offering “Save Hope Valley School” lawn signs. The “Richmond Forgotten Taxpayers” also opposes the bond. On the group’s website, founder Clay Johnson describes bond supporters as extremists.

“It is another sign of the arrogance of the extreme left that they feel they are owed positions of power, he states. “It is disappointing that they force the continued expenditure of public resources on vanity projects.”

Trimmer said wanted to remind residents of Hopkinton and Richmond that their respective Town Councils had voted against supporting the bond.

“The reasons are numerous, but one that affects both towns is that bond will consume ‘tax bandwidth’ reducing the ability for the taxpayers to support any municipal tax increases to maintain infrastructure,” he said. “It will also reduce tax bandwidth for Chariho to absorb the expected loss of state aid. The inflation rate is currently high, as are the borrowing rates. Taxpayers are already absorbing huge cost increases on everything that have skyrocketed over the last two years. Now is just not the right time to take on more debt.”

 

What About Charlestown?

 

The third Chariho town, Charlestown, was not invited to join the alliance. The Charlestown Town Council has traditionally been supportive of residents’ rights to vote on Chariho initiatives, including budgets and bonds.

Contacted Friday, council President Deborah Carney said she was not aware of the Richmond-Hopkinton alliance.

 

Bond Supporters Soldier On

 

Proponents of the consolidation plan argue that it is an opportunity for the school district to benefit from state funding that would pay for up to 81% of the cost of the three new schools.

As for keeping all four schools open, supporters say that with most of the buildings approaching 100 years old, pouring funds into maintaining them is not a good investment. In addition, they say, as enrollment declines, it is not sound fiscal policy to keep two elementary schools open in the small town of Hope Valley.

School Committee Chair Catherine Giusti, a Hopkinton resident, said the new alliance would not help taxpayers.

“I am disappointed that the two Town Council Presidents have decided to not look out for the best interest of taxpayers, and I hope they are taking an opportunity to do what they can on their own Town Councils to try to offset the taxes in our area,” she said.

Hopkinton Town Council member Stephen Moffitt, a Democrat who will run in November against Republican Sen. Elaine Morgan in District 34 (Hopkinton, Richmond, Charlestown, Exeter, West Greenwich) said he was surprised by the intensity of the opposition to the bond.

“The amount of organized effort opposing the bond is incredible,” he stated in a written comment. “For the Forgotten Taxpayers, this is not about the money. If it was, they would realize approving this bond is an opportunity to pay for substantial long-term infrastructure for a 76-81% discount.”

Moffitt described the opposition effort as misleading and dishonest.

“This is about ideology and is being pushed by the Forgotten Taxpayer leadership, Clay Johnson and Louise Dinsmore to the detriment of those they have influence over,” he said. “The amount of misinformation and suggested pitfalls is disheartening.” 

One of the bond’s strongest proponents is Jessica Purcell, who represents Richmond on the School Committee. Purcell’s approach has been, to a large extent, meeting voters and answering their questions.

Purcell lamented the political divisions in the school district and said she was reluctant to comment on the alliance because she didn’t want to make the situation worse.

“It’s not up to us,” she said. “That’s the thing. It’s not up to Mark Trimmer. It’s not up to Louise Dinsmore. It’s up to letting the voters know and letting them decide.”

Trimmer said voters could expect to hear more from the alliance, although he didn’t specify what the towns might be planning.

“We have to do our part in defeating the bond and instead make the necessary improvements to our existing schools to keep them viable in the 21st Century,” he said.

But Moffitt said the bond debate is more about politics than education.

“This is about ideology and is being pushed by Forgotten Taxpayer leadership Clay Johnson and Louise Dinsmore to the detriment of those they have influence over,” he said. “The most important thing the Forgotten Taxpayers group are forgetting is the taxpayer. Ideology and misinformation is their motivation.”

Preserve Loses Appeal

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

April 24th 2024

RICHMOND – The Preserve Sporting Club has lost its appeal in Rhode Island Supreme Court of a Superior Court decision dismissing its lawsuit against the town. The opinion was released on Wednesday.

 

The First Complaint

 

In a notice dated March 30, 2021, Preserve attorneys John Tarantino and Nicole Benjamin notified then -Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth that the Preserve was filing a complaint against the town seeking $100 million in damages. The notice also suggested that the Town Council might have to hold a meeting to approve the levy of a special tax to “pay this demand or otherwise resolve this case.”

Named as defendants were Richmond Finance Director Laura Kenyon and the members of the Town Council at the time: council President Nell Carpenter, and members James Palmisciano, Lauren Cacciola, Rich Nassaney, and Ronald Newman.

The complaint stated that the town had taken actions that had interfered with the Preserve’s “due process rights and rights to equal protection.”

The complaint further stated,

“The Preserve has been treated in arbitrary and capricious ways in attempting to have its plans reviewed and approved; necessary permits issued; projects scheduled for hearing; and ordinance changes voted on and approved.”

In a decision issued in Dec. 2022, Superior Court Justice Richard Licht granted the town’s motion to dismiss the complaint, based on the statute of limitations as well as an absence of facts supporting the Preserve’s claims.

 

The Appeal

 

The Preserve filed its appeal of the Superior Court decision in Rhode Island Supreme Court in Jan. 2023. 

The town, represented by James Marusak, responded by filing a cross appeal that same month, “arguing that the three-year statute of limitations barred all of plaintiffs’ claims, not just the claims for substantive due process and tortious interference.”

In a 26-page opinion, Supreme Court Justices Paul Suttell, Maureen McKenna Goldberg, William P. Robinson, Erin Lynch Prata and Melissa Long upheld the lower court’s dismissal of the complaint.

The Supreme Court opinion states:

“With regard to the statute of limitations, the hearing justice [Licht] found that the substantive due-process claim and the tortious interference claims were subject to a three-year statute of limitations and that the continuing tort doctrine did not apply. He therefore determined that those claims [counts one through three] were barred because plaintiffs did not file their action until December 16, 2021.”

(The town actions cited by the Preserve occurred before 2017.)

Mark Reynolds, an attorney and Chairman of Richmond’s Tax Assessment Board of Revue, explained that the Preserve was attempting persuade the court that the three-year statute of limitations should have been “tolled” or paused.

“The Preserve was trying to say the statute of limitations should have been paused or not start running, because of conduct by the town,” he said. “It looks like the sole basis for affirming the decision of Judge Licht is the statute of limitations.”

Indeed, a footnote on the final page of the Supreme Court opinion reads:

“Because we conclude that each of the plaintiffs’ claims are barred by the statute of limitations, we need not address the remaining issues.”

 

Will There be Damages?

 

The town will not be awarded fees or damages of any kind.

“What’s known as the American Rule is, each side pays for its own attorney’s fees, and the only exceptions to that are if there’s a statute that forms the basis for a lawsuit that says you can recover your fees from the losing side,” Reynolds explained. “The town might be able to recover the costs of the appeal, but that’s not an attorney’s fee, and there wouldn’t be any costs here other than maybe, if they had to order a transcript. … So no, other than the Preserve having to pay their own lawyers to try to win this case, that’s it. The town cannot recover anything from them because they won.”

Solar Case Heads for Supreme Court

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

April 22nd 2024

RICHMOND – The Rhode Island Supreme Court has granted a petition for a writ of certiorari to the Town of Richmond and to abutting homeowner, John Peixinho. The writ paves the way for a review by the Supreme Court of a Superior Court decision ordering the town to issue a special use permit for a commercial solar array on Beaver River Road.

“I was so pleased to hear the news,” Peixinho said. “We must continue to work together to protect Richmond’s rural character and ensure that our quality of life and our property values are not diminished by utility scale solar installations in residential areas.”

Attorney Tom Dickinson, who represents Peixinho, said he had received the news on Monday afternoon.

“What will happen is, the formal writ itself, which is a legal document that we send to the Superior Court in Washington County, telling them to send up the file,” he said. “Each of the parties will have to file a legal memo reiterating the issues that we raised in the petition, and then that will go to a single Justice, who will hold a conference with the lawyers, and that single Justice will basically decide what calendar to put it on.”

 

Construction Well Underway

 

GD Beaver River I LLC, a company owned by Green Development, began building the project in the field owned by William Stamp Jr., of Cranston, almost immediately after receiving the March, 2023 decision by Rhode Island Superior Court Justice Sarah Taft – Carter ordering the Richmond Zoning Board to issue a special use permit allowing the project to proceed.

Watching the construction proceed, Peixinho said he was angry that the work had begun while a final decision is still to be rendered.

“It’s just devastating that they are charging ahead with this massive installation while the case remains unsettled,” he said. “But I believe that’s also a clear indication of what little regard these out-of-town property owners and solar companies have for our community.”

The developer and Stamp first applied in 2018 for a special use permit, which was required because the property, at 172 Beaver River Road, is in a low-density residential zone.

Russel “Bo” Brown, the zoning official at the time, denied the application, because the project did not meet a town requirement that solar arrays be no more than two miles from a utility substation.

The application was also denied by the Planning Board, because it would not be consistent with provisions in the town’s comprehensive plan that protect the town’s rural landscapes and cultural and historic heritage.

GD Beaver River appealed the Zoning Board decision to Superior Court, which remanded the case to the Zoning Board. When the board again denied the application, the developer appealed once more to Superior Court and this time, he prevailed, with Justice Taft-Carter stating that the Zoning Board’s reasons for denying the application were “unsupported” and directing the town to immediately issue the special use permit.

In 2021, the National Park Service added Beaver River Road Historic District to the National Register of Historic Places, and the Beaver River is part of the federally-designated Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

But those national designations did not prevent the developer from moving ahead with the project, and neighbors watched, aghast, as the open field was stripped and covered with the racks that would support the solar panels.

 

The Writ

 

In June, 2023, in a final attempt to stop the project, then -Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth submitted a petition for a writ of certiorari, asking the Supreme Court to review the Superior Court decision.

Dickinson, representing Peixinho, also submitted a petition for a writ of certiorari.

Peixinho’s petition stated that the writ should be granted to correct the error made by the Superior Court:

“A Justice of the Superior Court reviewing a zoning decision is bound by the limits of R.I. Gen. L. sec. 45-24-69, which prohibits the court from substituting its judgment for that of the zoning board of review. On certiorari, this Court will

reverse if it can be shown ‘that the justice misapplied the law, misconceived or overlooked material evidence, or made findings that were clearly wrong.’  Kenlin Properties v. City of East Providence, 139 A.3d 491, 500 (R.I. 2016) (reversing a trial justice who overturned zoning board).”

The petition further states:

“Here the trial justice misapplied the law and was clearly wrong in the failure to apply this Court’s precedents.

With regard to the two-mile requirement, the trial justice substituted her interpretation of the ordinance for the zoning official’s interpretation and the board of review’s interpretation as well.”

 

Town Council Reaction

 

Reached Monday afternoon, Town Council President Mark Trimmer said he was relieved that the petition had been granted and he hoped the town would see the lower court judgment overturned.

“Thank God,” he said. “Cooler heads might prevail on this. I hope it gives us an opportunity to go backward and preserve the rural land in the town.”

Council Vice President Richard Nassaney added,

“I’m very excited that the Supreme Court is going to entertain the case,” he said.

Councilor Samantha Wilcox said she looked forward to having the case settled.

“I’m glad it’s going to be heard,” she said. “I’m not in favor of solar in Beaver River [Valley], just like most people in the community.”

 

The Timing

 

With the Supreme Court in session until the end of May, Dickinson said he expected the writ would be heard in the fall.

“The earliest this would be heard would be September, October. I think that, more likely, in November,” he said.

 

There is no avenue for further appeal. Should the Supreme Court decide in favor of the town and Peixinho, Dickinson said it is unclear whether the developer would be required to dismantle the equipment and remediate the site.

“I think that would all have to go back to Richmond and maybe, the Superior Court in Washington County to decide,” he said. “We’re really just focusing on the legal questions here, and once our Supreme Court decides those legal questions, then we’ll have to figure out what the next step is.”

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Council Praises Proposed Budget

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

April 17th 2024

RICHMOND – At the April 16 Town Council meeting, members were unanimous in their praise for the proposed 2024-25 town budget.

They also agreed not to pursue a tax abatement for owners of properties with historic cemeteries.

 

The Budget

 

During a public hearing at the council meeting, outgoing Finance Director Laura Kenyon presented the proposed municipal budget.

“In preparing this budget, we did understand that the people of Richmond were looking for as much tax relief as fiscally possible,” she said.

Kenyon explained that the budget has two components:  municipal, and education – the Chariho schools budget which voters passed in the April 9 referendum. Richmond’s share of the Chariho budget is $21.9 million, an increase of $270,000.

The municipal budget is $7.9 million.

The good news is the property tax rate will decrease from $14.76 to $14.66.

“The reason for the decrease is the town’s anticipating an increase in assessment value of about $15 million, but a decrease in the tangibles of about 8 [$8 million] the state is reimbursing us for that,” Kenyon explained.

Council President Mark Trimmer said Kenyon was the best of the three Finance Directors he had worked with during his years on the council.

“Head and shoulders above the rest, so thank you,” he said.

Councilor Michael Colasante added,

“A big numbers - cruncher myself, and sometimes we kind of look at numbers and sometimes we can’t see past the numbers to compassion for people, and I have to say, the amount of people at that podium this past year and told of their strife about their taxes, how tough it is paying their taxes, you folks listened to it. Thank you very much.”

Resident Robert Cardozo also praised the budget.

“This is probably the best budget I’ve seen in 20-some odd years here, and I wanted to thank you for it,” he said.

The second public hearing on the budget will be on May 8 and the budget referendum is June 3.

The complete proposed budget can be found on the town’s website.

 

Municipal Court

 

The council agreed, at a previous meeting, to introduce a Richmond municipal court for a six-month trial period.

During Tuesday’s discussion of the procedure for hiring a municipal court judge, councilor Samantha Wilcox proposed using the same procedure as the one the council followed for hiring the new Town Solicitor.

Later during the council meeting, addressing another agenda item pertaining to the establishment of a municipal court, there were questions about the cost to the town. The court is expected to be revenue-neutral for traffic cases, but would generate more revenue in fines for building and zoning ordinance violations.

Colasante proposed exploring the possibility of Richmond sharing the municipal court already established in Hopkinton, and Town Solicitor Christopher Zangari said he would look into it.

 

Drinking Water

 

The Council voted to award the contract for the new chlorination system to LaFramboise Water Service. LaFramboise, of Thompson, Connecticut, was the only company to bid on the contract, coming in at $245,000.

The cost of the upgrade will be paid by the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank’s water enterprise fund.

There is also the matter of amending the town’s zoning ordinance and comprehensive plan to allow the installation of the new chlorination system on a 29-acre parcel on KG Ranch Road.

The Planning Board voted in March to recommend that the proposed changes be presented at a public hearing. However, some board members, including Chairman Philip Damicis and Vice Chair Dan Madnick, expressed reservations about changing the zone from “conservation and open space” to “public and governmental.”

Town Planner Talia Jalette urged the council to come to a decision as soon as possible, but Trimmer made a motion to explore the feasibility of re-zoning just two acres of the 29-acre parcel.

“I don’t want some sort of giant facility there ever,” he said.

The public hearing on the amendments will take place on May 21 at 6 p.m.

Colasante suggested asking representatives of the town’s water supplier, Northeast Water Solutions, and LaFramboise, the company supplying the chlorination system, to be present at the hearing to answer questions about the chlorination system and how much land it might be expected to require.

 

Cemetery Abatement Tabled

 

Council members appeared to have had a collective change of heart regarding a proposed $100 annual property tax abatement for homeowners with historic cemeteries on their properties.

Wilcox said there were several concerns related to the maintenance of the cemeteries.

“Who’s going to be checking up on the property?” she said. “What will happen if the cemetery’s not maintained?”

Whether the public has access to historic cemeteries is another concern.

Councilor Helen Sheehan, who stated at an earlier meeting that she believed the cemeteries were open to the public, noted that she had read a letter submitted to the council by historic preservationist and Richmond property owner John Peixinho, stating that the cemeteries were private.

“The last time I spoke, I had a historic cemetery on our property when I lived in Scituate, but I learned from Mr. Peixinho, he sent a letter, he said that not all property, people have access to it. I said you have access on your property, they have a right to it. He said they don’t,“ she said.

Sheehan said the $100 abatement wouldn’t cover the cost of maintaining a cemetery.

“To me, it’s a waste of money for $100,” she said.

Colasante said approving the abatement could be “opening a can of worms” for the town, which would administer the program.

“I just don’t want to expose the town to that kind of cost,” he said.

The council approved a motion, made by Wilcox, to file the item.

 

Disaster Aid

 

Emergency Management Director Randy Gemme said homeowners impacted by the severe weather in December and January only have until May 20 to apply for FEMA aid.

“FEMA will come to your house and help you register,” he said. “… about 20 households, they’ve already administered some funding. Some of this funding is non-returnable, so the quicker you get your registration done and recognized by FEMA, they will determine what you need, along with SBA. [Small Business Administration]. I need to remind you that the deadline to register is May 20. I know there are some residents that have reached out to me that have not even signed up as of yet.”

The FEMA hotline number is: 1-800-621-3362. The website is: disasterassistance.gov.  

 

 

Other business

 

RICAN

 

The council approved a request from the Rhode Island Center Assisting Those in Need, or RICAN, to reallocate the remaining $9,812 of the $34,000 in American Rescue Plan Act or ARPA funds allocated by the town to the agency. The funds would offset the cost of refinishing the floors in the building, an unexpected expense of $25,000.

After hearing from Rep. Megan Cotter, D- District 39, who supported the RICAN request, Colasante made a motion to grant the reallocation, which the council approved.

 

Federal grants

 

In her report, Town Administrator Karen Pinch announced that the town had applied for a R.I. Energy energy efficiency grant to replace the air conditioning in the Department of Public Works building, and that it had been awarded $18,464.

Pinch also noted that the town had been awarded $165,000 from the office of Sen. Jack Reed for the communications tower on Shannock Hill Road that was damaged by fire in 2022. 

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Change of Leadership at Republican Town Committee

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

April 15th 2024

RICHMOND – There’s been a shake-up in the leadership of the Richmond Republican Town Committee. Patricia Pouliot and Ray Pouliot, the committee’s Chair and Treasurer have been replaced by Michael Colasante and Helen Sheehan. Colasante and Sheehan both currently serve on the Town Council.

 

The Pouliots did not comment on their ouster, but Ray Pouliot referred questions to Joe Powers, who chairs the Rhode Island Republican party.

Reached Monday, Powers said the new leadership had been properly installed.

“They actually pretty much handled everything on their own and it was about a month ago, maybe,” he said. “They all took care of all of that. It was just a changing of the guard. They went through the policies and procedures. They followed the bylaws. They had a special meeting to elect a new chairman and they’re all copacetic.”

 

Republicans React

 

Not everyone is “copacetic.” The meeting at which Colasante and Sheehan were elected is reported to have taken place at Colasante’s home.

Town Council President Mark Trimmer, a Republican who says he is now changing his party affiliation, said he was unaware of the meeting or the election.

“Now that it’s official, that just sickens me,” he said. “He was elected to it after a series of meetings where people were bullied out one by one. … Anyone who is anywhere near a reasonable Republican is no longer part of that party anymore. I will probably, at this point, seek the endorsement of the Democrats in town.”

Town Council Vice President Richard Nassaney is another Republican cast out by the committee.

“I’m disappointed in the way that they went about their change of leadership,” he said. “It was done under the cover of darkness, done behind closed doors. … It’s not a party that I wish to even associate myself with.”

Jeff Noble, a Republican who has joined the Richmond Community Alliance political action committee, said he had been following a trail of amendments to the committee leadership, filed with the Rhode Island Board of Elections.

“At the end of 2022, Louise [Dinsmore] was the President of the Richmond Republican Town Committee,” he said. “Then, the next filing was January 30th of 2023, that had Ray [Pouliot] as the Treasurer and Pat [Pouliot] as the President. The next filing that records anything is the annual political party treasurer’s filing. … And then, on February 22nd, they amended their organization, removing Ray as Treasurer. “

On March 5th, there was another amendment, changing the committee’s email address to then - committee President Patricia Pouliot’s address.

The final amendment filed with the Board of Elections was on March 19. Notarized by Hopkinton Town Council Vice President and Republican stalwart, Scott Bill Hirst, that filing changes the committee’s post office box address to the street and email addresses of Michael Colasante. The filing also shows Helen Sheehan as the new Treasurer.

Noble said,

“Just speaking for myself, if it’s not evident, the Richmond Republican Town Committee President is more about him controlling things and less about good public policy, or really, just good behavior. It doesn’t even matter anymore, I think, what’s accomplished. It’s just him being in charge is what the overall goal is.”

Noble described the recent upheaval in the Town Committee as unsettling.

“I’m a Republican,” he said. “I’m still registered as a Republican, and I won’t change because I don’t think change comes from, you know, quitting. I’m more conservative than I am liberal, but there are a couple of things. First, I don’t need to shove it in everybody’s face and the second thing is, to have good government policy, you need to work within the government and make it and, I hate to say it, compromise.”

 

The leadership changes are not reflected on the state Republican website, that still shows Patricia Pouliot as the Chair of the Richmond Republican Town Committee.

There is no information on the Town Committee website either, which does not appear to have been maintained, and displays a homepage that is blank.

Road Closed for Roundabout Work

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

April 11th 2024

RICHMOND – Construction of the roundabout at the junction of Routes 138 and 112 is progressing, with part of Route 112 (Richmond Townhouse Road) closed on Thursday morning, so it could be widened.

Reached Thursday, Town Administrator Karen Pinch said,

“112 is closed right now and they are actually grading it all the way up to 138, and it’s been widened so that the curve of the road is actually abutting the new retention pond, so it’s actually starting to look like a roundabout. It’s got turn lanes now, where it didn’t before.”

 

Some Background

 

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation first proposed the project in 2019. Designed to slow traffic and reduce accidents, the roundabout will require vehicles to slow down to 25 miles per hour. to about 25 miles per hour, has been used successfully in many other cities and towns.

The roundabout will include sidewalks and cross walks for pedestrians.

The project will cost $6.5 million and is expected to be completed by April, 2025. A new water line, a town project funded by a $292,660 grant from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, is being installed at the same time.

 

Road Closures

 

Pinch said she had been told by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation that there would be intermittent road closures. On Thursday, motorists were directed to the section of Route 138 that runs behind the Town Hall. That road will become a one-way East when the project is complete, with the westbound direction permanently closed.

“If you were coming West on 138, where you would normally turn onto 112, today, that’s closed,” Pinch explained. “So, people are having to go a little further down to that cut-off road. … What’s going to be one-way is, if you’re coming 138 east, where you fork right to go between the Town Hall and the golf course, that’s going to be one way only, to Chariho Furniture.”

The project is progressing smoothly, with Manafort Brothers Inc. taking over the work started by the original contractor, the now-defunct Cardi Corporation.

Pinch warned motorists travelling on Route 138 to use caution because of the equipment at the bottom of the hill.

“You have to move slowly,” she said. “Just now, coming down the hill, to where the machine is that’s milling was literally adjacent to a sign and a drainage structure, I was behind a school bus and he was creeping, because it was super-tight, between their milling machine and that drainage structure that he really couldn’t drive over, because it’s really pretty high.”

The intermittent closures of Route 112 will continue as the grading continues to prepare the road for the first layer of asphalt, which is expected to be applied next week.

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With Two Towns Supporting, Chariho Budget Passes

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

April 10th 2024

WOOD RIVER JUNCTION – Hopkinton’s opposition to the 2024-25 Chariho regional School District budget wasn’t enough to keep it from passing. Tuesday’s referendum vote in that town, 513 no to 345 yes, did not overcome the support for the budget in Richmond and Charlestown.

Richmond’s totals were 486 yes and 358 no and Charlestown’s were 372 yes and 78 no.

Chariho Superintendent of Schools Gina Picard said Tuesday night that the approval of the budget confirmed that most residents support the school district.

“Today's school budget vote underscores the critical role that community investment plays in shaping the future of education,” she said. “It's a testament to our collective commitment to providing quality resources and opportunities for our students. Every yes vote cast is a declaration of support for our schools and the promise of a brighter tomorrow for our children. The support of the budget ensures that our schools can continue to provide the highest quality education and opportunities for all students.”

 

Voter Turnout

 

Voter turnout on Tuesday was low, especially in Charlestown, where only 6.6% of 6,748 eligible voters cast their ballots.

In Hopkinton, with 6,722 eligible voters, 12.7% voted and Richmond had the highest turnout, 12.8% of 6,570 eligible voters.   

School Committee President Catherine Giusti thanked those residents who did vote.

“I’m grateful to the taxpayers who took the time to vote yesterday,” she said. “The budget was the most confusing we have seen in a long time. The confusion was perpetuated by former politicians who have long been detractors of Chariho. I appreciate the voters’ commitment to public education, as I feel it's a cornerstone of our democracy.”

 

Confusion Persists

 

Even at the best of times, the Chariho budget is difficult to understand and explain to voters, but this year, it was further complicated by a second referendum that will take place on May 7. Voters will be asked to approve a bond of up to $150 million for the consolidation of the district’s four elementary schools into three new schools.

Hopkinton has, for years, fought efforts to close its second elementary school. This year, the annual budget and the bond were both linked to the future of Hope Valley School, with some residents believing, wrongly, that a vote against the budget would somehow keep the school from closing.

One social media post in the Hopkinton Community Forum urged residents to “vote no on school budget and save Hope Valley Elementary.”

Some Hopkinton residents are going a step further and taking legal action. School bond opponents are raising money to hire attorney Kelly Fracassa to sue the school district for violating Section 13 of the Chariho Act, which states that children who enter kindergarten “will be assured of matriculation at that school through grade 4 unless the family relocates outside the elementary school attendance district.”

Matriculation, the group argues, will not happen if the school is closed. The school district counters that with kindergarten enrollment already closed for the coming fall, Hope Valley will be a “grades 1 to 4 school,” so there won’t be any children in kindergarten who would otherwise matriculate.

 

Selling the Annual Budget

 

With Hopkinton expected to reject the budget and Charlestown expected to support it, Richmond was the key to budget passage or failure.

Some residents are ideologically opposed to public education, while for others, it’s about money and taking to social media to express their anger about tax increases.

This year, though, there was something new to be angry about: the school construction bond.

Jessica Purcell, who represents Richmond on the School Committee, said she had taken nothing for granted in the months before the referendum.

“Community outreach, that’s a priority of mine as a School Committee member,” she said. “I think that’s one of our main jobs, to take what we learn through our meetings and through our interactions with the administration, and bring that to the community.”

Purcell organized what she calls “neighbor forums” in each of the three towns, where residents could find the information they needed in an informal atmosphere.

“One of the things I most try to express is that the budget’s essentially a one-year contract to fund our school system, so every year, we have to go through this process, and the more people that are engaged, the better, and that’s not just voting,” she said. “That’s the long process of the meetings and expressing your opinion on what’s important to you, and we’ll be back at the negotiating table soon enough for the budget. It goes by fast.”

It is also important, Purcell added, to understand why people opposed the budget and to listen to their concerns.

 “I think the most important thing we can do is understand why folks are opposing it and if there’s a way for them to be part of the conversation, we need to do that,” she said.

Picard agreed that it would be important to make an extra effort to reach out to voters who had opposed the budget.

“We also remain committed to our community members who voted no to continue to provide transparency around our budget and to work hard to gain their trust and support to benefit all Chariho students and families,” she said.

Ethics Commission Extends Colasante Investigations

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

April 9th 2024

PROVIDENCE – The Rhode Island Ethics Commission voted at its Tuesday meeting to extend, for a second time, its investigations into two ethics complaints against Town Council member Michael Colasante.

 

Trimmer’s Complaint

 

One complaint, filed in Sept. 23 2023 by council President Mark Trimmer, focuses on the business relationship between Colasante and former Electrical Inspector, Jeffrey Vaillancourt. The complaint states that while Vaillancourt was doing electrical work at Colasante’s sawmill on Buttonwoods Road, Colasante declined to recuse himself from two disciplinary hearings on Vaillancourt’s behavior and that Colasante participated in the hearings and also voted.

 

Nassaney’s Complaint

 

In November, 2023, Town Council Vice President Richard Nassaney filed a complaint stating that Colasante had a business relationship with D’Ambra Construction when he voted in favor of awarding a paving contract for North Road to D’Ambra.

Not long after the contract was awarded to D’Ambra, a truck from Richmond Sand and Stone, a company owned by D’Ambra, delivered material for a retaining wall to Colasante’s property.

D’Ambra trucks were observed on the Colasante property on Oct. 13, and at the Oct. 17 Town Council meeting, Colasante voted to award another paving contract, this time for Tug Hollow Road, to D’Ambra. On Oct. 18, the day after the second paving contract was awarded to D’Ambra, Nassaney’s complaint states the company was observed at Colasante’s Buttonwoods property “installing the retaining wall material and grading his property for a future driveway.”

 

The Decisions

 

Tuesday’s decisions to grant extensions to the commission’s investigations into the two complaints follow a Feb. 2024 decision to grant the first extensions.

Commission Chair Marisa Quin read the decisions, which were the results of votes that had taken place in Executive Session.

Regarding complaint by Trimmer,

“The commission voted 7 to 0 to find the record had established that good cause exists and to grant the prosecution’s motion to enlarge time for investigation, second extension, 60 days, to July 10, 2024.”

On the second complaint, Quinn stated,

“The commission voted by 7 to 0 to find that the record has established that good cause exists and to grant the prosecution’s motion to enlarge time for investigation.”

That extension is to July 12, 2024.

 

Contacted after the meeting, Executive Director Jason Gramitt explained that it is not uncommon for the commission to grant two extensions on an investigation, but that it does not allow more than two.

“It’s not unusual at all,” he said. “It’s a very common thing in cases before the Ethics Commission. Two extensions are the limit.”

 

Trimmer and Nassaney React

 

Trimmer said he was disappointed that a decision on his complaint had been delayed again.

“I’m disappointed because the elections are just around the corner, and people should know and who they’re not voting for and why,” he said.

 

Nassaney said he hoped the extension signaled a deeper investigation.

“The fact that they’ve asked for a second extension tells me they’re finding the rabbit hole goes even further,” he said. “They’re very thorough, so if they’re not satisfied, they’re going to keep digging.”

Confusion Abounds as Chariho Budget Referendum Approaches

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

April 5th 2024

RICHMOND – The days leading up to the Chariho budget referendum have been filled with drama – even more drama than the usual squabbling that has surrounded school budgets for the past several years.

Voters in Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton will decide on April 9 whether the district’s Fiscal Year 2024-25 proposed budget, which contains a 1.49% increase, will pass. If it doesn’t, the district will be level-funded.

Adding to the anxiety, there will be a second referendum, on May 7, on a bond of up to $150 million to consolidate the district’s elementary schools into three new buildings, replacing four aging schools.

 

Hope Valley Elementary School

 

The proposed school consolidation plan calls for the eventual closure of Hope Valley School, the second elementary school in Hopkinton. Richmond and Charlestown each have one elementary school.

Chariho Superintendent of Schools Gina Picard has closed kindergarten enrolment at Hope Valley School this fall, the first step in closing the school.

The probable school closing has angered some Hope Valley residents who are fighting to keep it open. They have formed a group, which has been holding unadvertised meetings in a local church.

 

The Signs and the Lawsuit

 

Yellow signs, reading “Save Hope Valley School” have been appearing on residents’ lawns. More recently, red stickers, reading “vote no,” have been slapped onto the yellow signs.

It is not clear which entities are behind which signs, but the addition of the red, “vote no” stickers presumably asks voters to reject the budget. If the budget is rejected, and the district is level-funded, the Chariho administration has stated on several occasions that Hope Valley School would be shuttered completely.

Jessica Purcell lives in Hope Valley and represents Richmond on the School Committee. She said many residents had told her that they had found the red stickers confusing.

“I talked to a couple of friends I know on Main Street who have the yellow signs, and they said they didn’t know that the stickers would be placed there,” she said. “They were upset that had been placed there. They were confused they’d been placed there. They don’t know who put them there.”

Last week, some Hope Valley parents said they were contacted, at their homes, by Sylvia Thompson, who asked them to fill out forms with the names of their children who would be affected by the closing of Hope Valley Elementary School.

One resident, who asked to remain anonymous, said she was told she could get a yellow “Save Hope Valley School” lawn sign at URE Outfitters and that Sylvia Thompson was the main point of contact.

School Committee Chair Catherine Giusti said she was concerned that someone had given Thompson the names and addresses of Hope Valley students.

“The people who provided the signs want to raise money to keep Hope Valley [school] open, seemingly forever,” she wrote in an emailed statement. “Sylvia Thompson, a former Hopkinton Town Councilor, was given the names and addresses of Hope Valley Elementary students to try and have them join the lawsuit. I’m not sure who gave her the list of children’s names, but it seems like an invasion of privacy to me.”

Reached Friday, Thompson said “I don’t have any comment.”

 

The Plan

 

The “Save Hope Valley School” signs and the “Vote No” stickers may appear to contradict each other, but the red stickers reveal the group’s ultimate goal. If the Chariho budget and then, the bond, are defeated, Hope Valley School will close and it is at that time that the group would take legal action.

The lawsuit would sue the district for violating Section 13 of the Chariho Act, which states that children who enter kindergarten “will be assured of matriculation at that school through grade 4 unless the family relocates outside the elementary school attendance district.”

Chariho Superintendent of Schools Gina Picard said Chariho attorney Jon Anderson had advised her that the lawsuit would be without merit, because no children would have been enrolled in kindergarten in the first place.

“If we stop enrolling, then there’s no enrollment. We’re no longer enrolling kindergarten. It’s a grades 1 to 4 school,” Picard stated.

The form also asks parents to donate to a “legal defense” fund and send their donations to Westerly attorney Kelly Fracassa.

“What I have been hired to do it to oppose the closing of the Hope Valley Elementary because it violates Section 13-1 of the Chariho Act,” Fracassa said. “I think it provides to the effect that if a student enters in kindergarten, he will be assured of matriculation to 4th grade, and also, if they have a sibling in that school, that sibling will be assured matriculation, so, just closing the school down is going to violate that provision, however, it’s not as simple as that. The parents and the students, in order to obtain an injunction, have to show irreparable harm. “… Plus, you have to balance the equities.  In other words, you balance the harm done to the students with whatever harm may befall the school district by not able to close Hope Valley Elementary.

Fracassa said he was only beginning to research the case.

“Right now, I’m just gathering information to support the case, and I don’t know when they hold the vote on it, but right now, there’s actually no case yet,” he said. “… Something like that is going to require not only testimony from the parents, but it’s probably going to require some type of expert testimony, and right now, I don’t know if it exists. I don’t know what that harm is, so I have to consult with experts to find out even if there is that kind of harm.”

 

Giusti said it appeared to her that voters did not understand the budget process.

“Defeating the budget sends a message to the School Committee that the budget is too high, thus forcing us to make more reductions,” she said. “I don’t know where those reductions will come from, though closing another grade at Hope Valley Elementary next year is a possibility. The people behind the “Save Hope Valley Elementary” group don’t appear to know how the budget process works, which is surprising. Voting no on April 9th will not save Hope Valley Elementary School.”

 

Purcell bemoaned the current turmoil in the school district.

“There’s a lot of undermining going on, right?” she said. “The Save Hope Valley School undermines the work that the School Committee did to find the right path forward for the district to balance the needs of all stakeholders, but then, I know that also, those families feel undermined who are facing the reality of a school closing. And then, people who don’t want you to support the budget, also don’t want you to save a school, but they don’t want to say that. It’s a mess.”

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Forestry Commission Releases Final Report

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

April 3rd 2024

PROVIDENCE – The commission studying forest management and fire prevention in Rhode Island’s forests has released its final report, recommending that the state allocate considerably more resources to mitigating the risk of wildfires.

The 12-member Special Legislative Commission to Evaluate and Provide Recommendations on Proper Forest Management for Fire Prevention began meeting monthly in Sept. 2023 and released its final 26-page report on April 1.

Chairing the commission was state Rep. Megan Cotter, D-Richmond, Exeter, Hopkinton, who has also introduced the Forestry and Forest Parity Act, House Bill 7618. That legislation recognizes the value of forests, including carbon sequestration, and seeks to give forestry and forest product operations parity, including tax exemptions, with farming and agriculture. The bill is scheduled for a hearing on April 4 by the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

Cotter said she began her effort to start a forest management and fire prevention commission after wildfires, one at the Queen’s River Preserve in Exeter and the second, near the Big River Management Area in West Greenwich, burned hundreds of acres in April 2023.

“I went to all the aftermath briefings, and I got a private tour from [North Kingstown] Fire Chief Scott Kettelle of the fire, and you know, while we were on the tour, we talked about what forest management should look like and Rhode Island is doing a poor job of managing our forest,” she said. “And so, I wanted to investigate why, what’s going on, what do we have to do to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to mitigate any fire potential.”

Rhode Island’s forests were devastated by spongy moth (formerly known as gypsy moth) infestations, which were particularly destructive from 2015 to 2017, killing one quarter of the state’s trees. Richmond was one of the hardest-hit communities, losing hundreds of oaks, many of which, while dead, are still standing as dangerous snags.

With forestry staff at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management cut by 75% since 1990, the agency has been able to manage just 1% of the state’s forests. Cotter’s legislation would allocate an additional $3 million of the proposed $16 million Green Bond conservation fund for forest management and the development of forest management strategies.

There are currently just four rangers working in the state’s forests, so there are few deterrents to illegal activities such as trash- dumping in the woods. One of the most dramatic incidents occurred last fall, when someone dumped 45 old mattresses in a state forest.

“We used to have forest rangers throughout Rhode Island state land,” Cotter said. “We no longer do that, and now, people know that they can get away with all sorts of crazy stuff.”

Commission member Scott Millar, who chairs the Exeter Planning Board, agreed that DEM staff and budget cuts had left the agency without the resources necessary to manage Rhode Island’s forests.

“Clearly over the years, DEM has lost critical staff that would be needed in the event of a wildfire, and that goes for helping with the prevention,” he said.

Critics have suggested that Cotter’s legislative initiatives would amount to a giveaway to the state’s logging industry, a charge that Cotter emphatically denies.

“There’s really no real logging industry in the state of Rhode Island,” she said. “It’s not really an industry that’s booming, and nor do we want it to be booming. A lot of the bills that I am supporting, the bills that I am pushing, are already in effect in Maine and Vermont and other heavily-forested areas. We do need to manage the forest properly. We’ve always done that in the past, we just haven’t done it, for probably, the last 50 years, and now, we are seeing the effects of what that looks like.”

 

The Climate Connection

 

John Torgan the Director of the Nature Conservancy in Rhode Island, also served on the commission.  TNC owns the Queen’s River Preserve where one of the wildfires occurred.

“One of the things we wanted to impress upon the General Assembly and policy makers is that these fires, while unprecedented in recent history, are not isolated events, and that due to factors including climate change and related things like invasive species, we expect to see a lot more of these kinds of events going forward,” he said. “The conditions that created the wildfires last spring, including the Queen’s River fire, were preceded by consecutive days of record high temperatures in the early spring when there are no leaves on the trees, and that allowed the sun to get to the forest litter and dry that out and just create real tinderbox conditions, so any spark could have caused it, and it did."

The conservancy also recommended the creation of an updated list of landowner contact information.

“One of the things that we had to overcome in these wildfires last spring was, people have old information on who to reach out to with respect to each of the properties, and how to get access to those properties,” Torgan said. “…We want to make changes to ensure that we have a comparable updated set of communication protocols and a list of contacts and that’s going to be managed through the Fire Marshall, I think, as well as DEM.”

There were additional practical recommendations too, from the people charged with putting out the fires. Fire officials, including Richmond Carolina Fire Chief Scott Barber, described the difficulties they encounter in attempting to access properties to fight fires.

Even where access roads already exist, they are often choked with unchecked vegetation, too narrow for fire vehicles, blocked by boulders, or too flimsy to hold the weight of emergency vehicles.

 

Will Lawmakers Listen?

 

Now that the commission has issued its recommendations, will a legislature that has focused on encouraging the construction of more housing, including in the few rural areas left in the state, be receptive to allocating funds to forest conservation and management?

“That’s a policy decision that certainly, the legislature and the governor’s office has to make,” Millar said. “If they want to prioritize building houses in rural areas without adequate wildfire protection, they’re just asking for trouble. That’s essentially what’s happening now.”

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Board Recommends Zoning Change for Water Treatment Facility

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

March 27th 2024

RICHMOND – The Planning Board voted at its Tuesday meeting to issue a favorable advisory opinion on amendments to the zoning ordinance and future land use map to allow the installation of a drinking water treatment facility.

There are 294 customers on the water system. The town signed a consent agreement in 2020 with the Rhode Island Department of Health Center for Drinking Water Quality that includes a provision for monitoring drinking water for coliform and E coli. Coliform has been detected in the system and is still present, making an additional level of treatment necessary.

After determining that disinfecting the groundwater would be the preferred additional treatment, the town chose the “4-log” system, that kills 99.99% of viruses. The consulting engineer on the project is Northeast Water Solutions Inc., and C&E Engineering is the design engineer. Northeast Water Solutions is the town's current water service provider, replacing LaFramboise Water Services, the town's former water company. The contract to install the new treatment system has not yet been awarded.

 

Back in 2021, at the Financial Town Meeting, voters approved a $300,000 bond for water system improvements. The Town Council, at the March 5, 2024 meeting, approved a capital improvement charge of $80 per year, or $20 per quarter per customer, to pay back the bond.

 

Why the Zoning Amendment is Necessary

 

The 29-acre parcel where the water treatment facility would be built is vacant, “vegetated” land, with limited frontage on KG Ranch Road.

Town Planner Talia Jalette told the board that the proposed 4-log system, which uses chlorine and other chemicals to kill viruses, had to be installed close to the existing water system, which is nearby.

“It needs to be at this specific location,” she said. “There has to be a certain amount of communication between this proposed system and the existing system, because there has to be some kind of way to basically monitor how much chlorine and whatever other chemicals are going into the water to clean it.”

In a written report to the board, Jalette included a description of the 4-log system, by Northeast Water Solutions.

“…the system consists of three main parts; the injection of sodium hypochlorite [NaOCI] into the existing water distribution system within the existing pumphouse and backup vault on Plat 3B, Lot 101, an appropriate length of distribution main to allow for chlorine contact time, and the construction of a chlorine monitoring station which continuously monitors the concentration of chlorine in the water supply,” Northeast’s explanation states. “The chlorine monitoring station is a critical component because this system alerts the certified drinking water operator if the concentration of chlorine is too high or too low.”

Northeast Water Solutions also stated that the monitoring station “must be in the exact location proposed by the design engineer in order to allow for proper contact time between the chlorine injection point and the monitor point.”

After being contacted in Feb. 2024 by a Northeast Water Solutions engineer about permitting for the project, Jalette discovered that the property was zoned Conservation and Open Space, where horticulture is the only currently permitted use, and would therefore need to be re-zoned, from “Conservation and Open space” to “Public and Governmental.”

In addition to the zoning change, the Future Land Use Map Use map in the Comprehensive Plan would have to be amended.

Jalette noted that the Public and Governmental designation would be appropriate for the parcel.

“This is a governmental function,” she said. “It’s run through the Finance Department itself, and then it’s actually maintained by Northeast Water Solutions, but it is a function of the government.”

Some board members voiced concerns about re-zoning a single parcel.

Vice Chair Dan Madnick asked why just one of four adjacent plats was being re-zoned.

“We’re being asked to re-zone one plat, but there’s multiple plats here …,” he said. “Why are we not just re-zoning all of them? What’s the point of having a conservation – zoned space in this water system, anyway? I almost feel like we should make all of them the same zone so it’s consistent. There’s four plats here.”

Jalette said she was not aware of a reason why all four plats couldn’t be re-zoned, but added that she had not researched the other parcels.

“Generally speaking, I don’t think that there would be much of a hazard of re-zoning those. I would just say that, like I said, I haven’t done the research on the adjacent parcels like I did on this,” she said.

Board Chair Philip Damicis said he had reservations about amending the zoning.

“I would have preferred to have maintained the conservation restrictions on the property because it is 29 acres, and like I said, I don’t want to set a precedent for ‘yeah it’s 30 acres, we’re going to put this whatever that’s necessary and re-zone it,’ then we’ve lost all restrictions on that property.”

 

Member Peter Burton made a motion to send the proposed changes to a public hearing. Before the board’s unanimous approval, Madnick said he wanted to have a representative from Northeast Water Solutions present at the hearing to answer questions, and the other members agreed.

Council Appoints Chariho Building Committee Members

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

March 21st 2024

Editor’s note: this is a longer read than most of our posts, but there was a lot of information at the two meetings that we felt our readers should know.

RICHMOND – Town Council members, at Tuesday’s meeting, chose three residents to serve on the Chariho Building Committee. They also made two appointments, Karen Reynolds to the town’s 250th Semi Quincentennial Commission and Stephen Swallow, as a Republican Alternate to the Board of Canvassers.

At a workshop that took place before the council meeting, council members and residents learned about federal flood mitigation and property buyout programs

 

The Building Committee

 

The Chariho Act requires each of the towns in the Chariho Regional School District to appoint three residents to the Chariho Building Committee. Approved at the Chariho Annual Finance Meeting on March 5, the Building Committee will oversee the construction of three new school buildings, should voters approve the construction bond in the May 7 referendum.

Three School Committee members have already been named to the Building Committee; Richmond member, Karen Reynolds, Craig Louzon of Charlestown and Tyler Champlin of Hopkinton. 

Seven residents submitted their names for consideration as representatives of the town: William Day, Daniel Madnick, Nancy Pirnie, Andrea Baranyk, Ryan Calahan, and Albert Robar III. Patricia Pouliot, who serves on the School Committee, withdrew her name after Town Solicitor Christopher Zangari provided a legal opinion suggesting she might be perceived as having a conflict of interest.

“You’re setting yourself up for a potential problem,” he said.

Councilor Samantha Wilcox said she was more concerned with possible issues with an applicant, such as a School Committee member, who held an elected position, than someone who had been appointed to a body like the Planning Board.

After hearing from each candidate, the council chose Madnick, an engineer and Vice Chair of the Planning Board, Baranyk, an architect who also sits on the Planning Board, and with councilors Michael Colasante and Helen Sheehan opposed, former school committee member and project manager, Ryan Callahan.

 

Resolutions

 

The Amtrak Bypass

 

The council approved Richmond’s support of a Charlestown resolution, presented by council President Mark Trimmer, opposing any planned revival of the Amtrak high speed rail bypass.

 

Accessory Dwelling Units

 

After hearing from state Rep. Megan Cotter, (D-Richmond, Exeter, Hopkinton) who attended Tuesday’s meeting, Trimmer withdrew his resolution supporting Hopkinton’s opposition to House Bill 7062, which pertains to accessory dwelling units, or ADUs. 

A homeowner would have the right, under state law, to develop an ADU within an existing home, or on a lot larger than 20,000 square feet. The ADU would have to conform to building codes and infrastructure requirements.

Cotter said ADUs would be especially beneficial to seniors who want to remain in their homes.

“One of the things that I just really want to point out to the council is that 730 homes in Richmond, right now, are cost-burdened,” she said. “There are seniors that really want to stay in their homes in Richmond. …This is the AARP’s Number one bill in the legislative session. It will really, really help our seniors to stay in their homes.”

Cotter also noted that the ADUs would bring Richmond, which currently has 3.45% affordable housing, none of it specifically for seniors, closer to the state-mandated 10% affordable housing goal.

“They count for half a credit towards your affordable housing goal, and there’s zero affordable housing in Richmond for the elderly,” she said. “…and it’s actually a very unique bill this year. A lot of youth groups - this is also the number one bill that they’re pushing…A lot of our young people are leaving, because they can’t afford to stay here.”

Council Vice President Richard Nassaney said ADUs could benefit the town.

“I don’t think this should be looked at as a negative,” he said. “I’ve looked at it closely, and I’ve thought about it for a long time. This can be a good thing for us, because it will get the state off our back and not having them tell us what we’re going to do with our town.”

Cotter noted that once Richmond had reached its 10% affordable goal, it could then deny additional applications.

Town Planner Talia Jalette said the council should be aware of two additional issues with affordable housing.

“The 10% of affordable housing is not 10% and you’re necessarily done,” she said. “It’s 10% of the housing stock that you have in your municipality that is affordable, and that changes. That fluctuates greatly, depending upon deed restrictions, sometimes, if you have a group home, the group home beds, each count as a unit, so if you have a group home that goes under, you’re losing those units, so it’s very difficult to permanently achieve 10% of affordable housing stock.”

Jalette added that affordable housing is not just for people receiving assistance.

“… I would be eligible for low to moderate income housing as an employee of the town of Richmond, so that’s to kind of put it in perspective of the kinds of people who are going to be living in these kinds of units. It’s largely workforce-related housing. It’s young people. It’s seniors,” she said

After learning more about ADUs and how they would benefit residents, Trimmer said he would “defer to the experts,” and withdrew his request to support Hopkinton’s resolution.

 

New Carpet, Can of Worms

 

Town Administrator Karen Pinch asked the council to approve the allocation of $65,000 of the town’s remaining American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA funds to replace the worn carpeting in the Town Hall.

Colasante asked Pinch if the town would go out to bid for the project.

Pinch said the town could solicit bids from companies that are on the state’s Master Price Agreement, meaning they have already been vetted.

“It wouldn’t take as long,” she said. “It wouldn’t be as labor-intensive at our end.”

Colasante replied,

“Personally, in my business, I never go to a prospective vendor and tell them how much I have to spend,” he said.

“We would never do that,” Pinch said.

Colasante continued,

“Well, you just said $65,000, so you already, before you even go out to RFP, if they watched this public meeting, you’ve already let the cat out of the bag that we have up to $65,000 to spend.”

Trimmer interjected,

“She did that for informational purposes to us,” he said.

Wilcox said she didn’t feel that carpeting would an appropriate use for the town’s remaining ARPA money.

“I know we don’t have a lot left, but I’d like to do something better with what’s left of the ARPA money, so I’ll be voting against it,” she said.

With Wilcox opposed, the council approved the allocation of the funds for the carpeting.

 

Historic Cemeteries

 

Karen Pinch told the council that a resident who has a historical cemetery on their property had inquired about a tax abatement.

“Westerly and Burrillville have abatements of $100 per cemetery,” she said. “There are currently 97 of those in Richmond.”

State law allows cities and towns to pass ordinances giving property tax abatements to owners of parcels with historic cemeteries. The abatement is intended to cover expenses pertaining to the repair and maintenance of the cemeteries.  

Council members had a lot of questions. Wilcox asked who would check to ensure the cemeteries were being maintained. Trimmer said his concern was that property owners receiving tax abatements would have to grant access to the cemeteries.

Sheehan said she had lived on a property with a historic cemetery and agreed with Trimmer that the public had access to it.

“Because it’s a historical cemetery, people, they have a legal access to it. I believe that is Rhode Island state law,” she stated.

However, it is a misconception that property owners must allow public access to historic cemeteries on their land.

The Burrillville and Westerly ordinances require the property owner to grant the town access so those towns can verify that maintenance has been done. Property owners who fail to preserve the cemeteries for which they are receiving the tax abatements will forfeit those abatements.

John Peixinho, one of the founders of the BRVCA, who restored the historic Samuel Clarke Farm, which has two historic cemeteries on the property, said it was important to clarify statements made at the council meeting.

“While some cemeteries are owned by the town and can therefore be accessed by the public, privately owned land is privately owned land and trespassing on private property is against the law,” he said. “In my case, lineal family members associated with the cemeteries have a deeded easement, and we have a shared interest in seeing that the graves and walls are preserved and maintained appropriately. And, if a scholar or researcher has a demonstrated interest, they can always contact me for access.  Otherwise, the public should understand they are trespassing on private property.”

Zangari will draft an ordinance for the council’s consideration.

 

Flood Mitigation

 

With flooding a reoccurring problem in some neighborhoods and climate change resulting in more frequent, extreme weather events, the town held a workshop Tuesday before the regular Town Council meeting to learn more about flooding mitigation programs.

Presenting the workshop were Gina Fuller, District Manager for the Southern Rhode Island Conservation District and Mike Viola, an engineer with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“We think this is a great watershed for your PL566, which is a nationwide program where NRCS works with the sponsors, which are all the municipalities within the watershed, and Richmond was one of the original municipalities to sign on, on this effort, joining together to develop a 50-year watershed maintenance and operations program,” Fuller said.

“These are large infrastructure projects that help improve the resiliency of your municipalities and help you accomplish major infrastructure programs.”

Fuller and Viola presented a second federal initiative, the Emergency Watershed Protection Program, that funds the improvement and restoration of infrastructure and is also used for buy-outs of homes in areas that experience repeated flooding. Projects undergo cost-benefit analyses to ensure that they are economically and environmentally feasible.

The government refers to towns that join that program as “project sponsors.”

“NRCS may provide project sponsors with up to 75% of the following items: the fair market value, based on an appraisal of the property, relocation costs, and the site restoration costs,” Fuller said.

Colasante, who has frequently stated that Richmond has too much protected open space, suggested that protection be removed from some parcels and swapped with flood prone land.

“Richmond has a vast resource of land that DEM has in their control, the state, and actually, even the town, and I floated this idea with a few people, basically doing a land swap,” he said. “The land in Valley Lodge, DEM would take it back over let Mother Nature do her thing, and there’s 40, 50, maybe 100 acres out of the 12,000 that we have in perpetuity here in Richmond and we can do a land swap so that all these residents that are in a flood zone, we could do a land swap with either DEM, the state or the town, move these people to high, dry land, and give them fair market value for their home.”

Fuller replied that she had several reservations about land swaps.

“I think it’s something that would need a lot of work and discussion,” she said. “I don’t know if you’ve engaged DEM at all. I would caution you on that, just because of the way lands are often put into conservation easement, especially with the state, because there’s stipulations on what they can and cannot do.”

Jalette later added,

“The most important thing to understand about how a land swap would work is that oftentimes, when land is donated for a particular purpose, it’s going to only be allowed to be used for that purpose,” she said.

Fuller urged the town to sign on to the program as soon as possible.

“If there’s anyone in the Valley Lodge area or the areas that have recently experienced flooding in Richmond, that is interested in a buyout, it is extremely important that the town decide that they sign on as a sponsor as soon as possible, because that’s the lever that opens the door for anyone in the community to participate in this voluntary program. It doesn’t force anyone.”

The council will now consider joining the program.

EDC Members to Visit Shannock Mill Project

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

March 19th 2024

RICHMOND – Members of the Economic Development Commission will visit Shannock Mill on April 6 to meet with developer Jeffrey Marlowe and learn more about the project.

This is a new initiative for the commission, and a possible reflection of the changes in its membership following the resignations of most of the members last December. The only original members still serving are Peter Burton, the group’s Chair, and commission clerk, David Woodmansee. Those who resigned, former Chair Bryan LeBeau, Vice Chair B. Joseph Reddish, and members Louise Dinsmore and Joan Kent, cited a lack of support from the Town Council as their reason for leaving.

Burton, who is also a member of the Planning Board, is enthusiastic about his new role as commission Chair, and there are two new members, Fire Chief and former Public Works Director, Scott Barber, and James Brear.

Burton said he had heard about Marlowe’s project and wanted to learn more about it.

“He’s done a wonderful job,” he said. “He’s done the heavy lifting with remediation of that property and he has the vision, and he’s sticking with it, despite all the significant roadblocks. I want to meet this guy. I want to see what he’s doing. This is fantastic. This stuff checks all the boxes of what we want in this town.”

Marlowe, who bought the mill buildings in 2020, has received three grants from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management to remediate contamination at the site. He is still removing oil-contaminated soil from the former industrial site, while planning a mixed - use development, with small businesses and 14 housing units, four of which will be affordable.

Marlowe said he was “pleasantly surprised” to hear from Burton and looked forward to showing visitors around.

“It’s an opportunity for both the EDC and the Shannock Mill project to work together on economic development in Richmond,” he said. “We benefit from having any EDC cooperation, partnering on the project and two, it’s maybe something that we can both get a little more exposure from.”

Burton said he hoped there would be a way the town to support the project.

“Mr. Marlowe has kept going despite repeated roadblocks, and I’d like the town to be a partner with him and stick with it, also,” he said.

While Burton said it was important to continue to encourage new businesses to come to Richmond, he also believed that the commission should broaden its scope.

“… It would be a mistake to imply that this focus is one solely directed towards lowering property tax rates,” he said. “This is important for sure, but highlighting existing and up-and-coming businesses is every bit as important. They are the true backbone of the community. By publicizing what Richmond already has, perhaps the EDC can make Richmond look more attractive to current and future businesses alike. This will do more than a slogan stating that ‘Richmond is open for business.’ We need to show it, not just say it.”

Commission members will be meeting Marlowe at 9 a.m. at the site of one of the future small businesses, a restaurant, at 1660 Shannock Road. The public is also welcome to join the tour.

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School Committee Adopts Budget, Cuts Hope Valley Kindergarten

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

March 13th 2024

WOOD RIVER JUNCTION – With five members opposed, a seven-member majority of the Chariho School Committee voted at Tuesday’s meeting to adopt the Fiscal Year 2024-25 budget. The period for amendments has now ended, and the next step will be to present it to voters.

After the drama generated by both the possible closing of Hope Valley Elementary School and the proposed school construction bond, the three-and-a-half hour meeting, which took place in the high school library, remained civil. As a small group of residents watched, with a few offering their comments, committee members discussed ways they could make further cuts to the budget and relieve the burden on taxpayers in the three towns.

During this final opportunity to make revisions, some items, such as the $434,000 that the committee had restored to Hope Valley School at a previous meeting, were cut from the spending plan. The final budget total, before state aid, is $58,341,117.

The most significant new budget reduction, and the first step in the district’s plan to phase out Hope Valley School, is the elimination of next year’s kindergarten at the school, which will save the district $434,834. 

“There will be no kindergarteners enrolled at Hope Valley next year,” Committee President Catherine Giusti said. “…I think that it was important to listen to the recommendation of the Superintendent, and she wanted us to start with phasing out kindergarten first.”

 

Other Changes

 

The committee approved the reduction of the district’s fund balance, or surplus, by $152,000, from 2.5% to 2%, leaving a surplus of $1.2 million. One school bus will also be cut, saving $80,000.

Charlestown member Andrew McQuaide proposed the fund balance reduction.

“In this instance, while I don’t believe ultimately long term it’s an advisable strategy, I would be open to reducing the fund balance and just wanted to have this conversation and hear where folks are at,” he said.

The committee also approved three additions to the budget, a total of $330,000: A teacher for children in the care of the Rhode Island Department of Children Youth and Families, or DCYF, at $75,000, a 2.5%, or $165,000 increase in employee healthcare costs, and one preschool teacher, at $90,000 including benefits.

“If a child is under the care of DCYF, then we need to be able to provide education for them, and it doesn’t always mean they’re staying in Chariho for education,” Giusti explained.

The increase in health care will offset cuts made to the current budget which were later determined to be too deep.

“That’s to offset the losses that we’re anticipating this year because were too severe in our cuts to that budgetary item last year,” Giusti said.

The additional preschool teacher’s assignment is still to be determined.

“It depends on what the enrollment looks like for preschool,” she said.

 

Tough Choices

 

As Chariho prepares to submit the proposed budget to voters in a referendum on April 9, residents will also decide whether to support a proposed bond that would authorize the district to borrow up to $150 million to build three new elementary schools to replace the four aging buildings currently in use.  That referendum will take place on May 7.

However, there will be big changes in the district regardless of whether voters approve the proposed budget or the bond. Richmond member Jessica Purcell acknowledged the difficult decision to phase out Hope Valley School.

“I just want to say it’s difficult to consider this,” she said. “I understand why it’s on the table and I think it is a strategic and targeted move, considering where we need to go as far as consolidation and having four schools across three towns is proven to not be sustainable, but I do want to acknowledge that it is a difficult discussion and I appreciate the feedback from folks on how they’re feeling.”

Hopkinton member Tyler Champlin said he had held back on expressing his opinion on closing the school, but he felt it was time to publicly state his position.

“I think there’s some confusion amongst, maybe it’s just Hopkinton voters to be 100% honest with you, what I’m hearing, people are saying ‘well, how do we keep Hope Valley open?’ or, ‘if we approve the budget, we keep Hope Valley open.’ Well, no. We’re kind of at that point where we’re between the proverbial rock and a hard place where, if we approve this budget as is, with this cut, Hope Valley K is gone, which is putting us on a path to remove Hope Valley completely, 100%, in the future. While I don’t think that is a wrong path, and the most fiscally responsible path, it’s hard to swallow for a lot of folks.”

Champlin also noted that rejecting the budget would only hasten the complete closure of Hope Valley School.

“Now, you’re just shooting yourself further in the foot, because, if we reject the budget, we’re heading down a path to level funding, which means Hope Valley closes totally next year.”

Superintendent of Schools Gina Picard reminded the committee that Hope Valley School had been considered for closure since the 1990s, and that in preparing the budget, she had tried to impact the fewest students. Up to 36 children will have to enter kindergarten in other Chariho schools in the fall.

“I do think that it’s a better plan to phase out K, so everyone has a chance to sort of digest this and move slowly to a plan,” she said.

Picard added that she could not make any decisions on kindergarten enrollment until she had a decision from the School Committee.

“In the end, I can’t create a plan without a commitment and a decision from the School Committee,” she said. “So, at your pleasure, you have to tell me what to do.”

Giusti said she was concerned that some residents continued to believe that a way would be found to save Hope Valley School.

“There seem to be people who think there’s a magic bullet to keep Hope Valley open forever, and there just is not,” she said. “That is the reality and it’s an unfortunate reality. …We’re trying to do it in a mindful way.”

A few parents expressed sadness and frustration that their children would be attending other Chariho schools, but one woman, describing herself as a teacher at Richmond Elementary School, offered some encouragement.

“As much as I don’t want Hope Valley to phase out, it just doesn’t make sense to add that money back,” she said. “…Phasing Hope Valley out completely, I know that it’s emotional. I will take care of your kids if they come to Richmond.”

 

Building Committee

Three members from the School Committee, one from each town, will serve on the Building Committee, which is required by the state as part of the school building process. They will work under the guidance of a state-appointed project manager and an architect. Craig Louzon, of Charlestown, will serve with Tyler Champlin of Hopkinton and Karen Reynolds, from Richmond. The towns will each name one additional representative. 

 

Fiscal Reality

Giusti said the day after the meeting that she would like residents to understand that even if they reject the bond, Hope Valley School is slated for closure.

“I am concerned that people are not going to understand the fiscal reality of voting against the bond,” she said. “I think now that the budget is done, I’m hopeful that we can have more targeted bond conversations so that people understand it a little bit better.”

Council Approves Water Fee Increase

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

March 8th 2024

RICHMOND – During a public hearing during Tuesday’s Town Council meeting, council members approved amendments to the water system ordinance that will raise the fees for the 294 residents whose homes are connected to the town water line.

Finance Director Laura Kenyon explained the proposed revisions, which will add a capital improvement charge of $80 per year, or $20 per quarter to water bills, are necessary in order to pay back the $300,000 bond for water system improvements that voters approved at the 2021 Financial Town Meeting.

Reading the revised ordinance, Kenyon said,

“Each customer shall pay a capital improvement charge of $80 per year, beginning on July 1 2024 and continuing each year until the $300,000 revenue bond to be issued in 2024 is paid in full,” she said. “One quarter of the annual fee will be added to each quarterly water bill. The final year’s billing shall be adjusted to account for payment in full of the bond. The fee shall be assessed against each existing customer as of July 1, 2024 and each new customer added thereafter.”

The council, in a unanimous vote, accepted the amendments.

 

Municipal Court

 

Previous Town Councils have considered a municipal court for Richmond, similar to the municipal courts in Hopkinton and Charlestown. The latest proposal was introduced by council member Samantha Wilcox, who cited an Aug. 2022 memorandum on the subject written by former Town Planner, Shaun Lacey.

“This was something that was recommended by staff, looked into by a prior council,” she said. “They ended up deciding that coming so close to an election, they would let us decide, but timing is such that it’s coming to the table now.”

Councilor Helen Sheehan said that she recalled that the previous Town Solicitor, Karen Ellsworth, had said that a municipal court would not generate any additional income. She asked what the advantage of the town having its own court might be.

Town Council President Mark Trimmer said when he served on a previous council, members voted against a municipal court.

“I know back in 2018, when I was on the council, we voted it down because we felt it would just add more work for certain town employees,” he said.

Wilcox said the current town staff supported a municipal court.

“It’s not necessarily a money-maker, but it helps us enforce the rules that we already have,” she said.

Town Solicitor Christopher Zangari said a municipal court would likely be revenue neutral, but would have several advantages.

“Having a municipal court is really convenient for the citizens,” he said. “That’s on the [traffic] ticket side. On the housing side, there’s a bigger advantage. There’s a savings, in that you have local access to a local municipal court judge. You don’t have a filing fee of $187 in Superior Court. You don’t have service by a constable…You don’t have to pay me to go to Washington County Superior Court, and I wait, and housing code violations in Superior Court, obviously they get a fair shake, but you’re lower on the list. If there’s someone coming in from the ACI, they come first.”

Zangari also noted that a municipal court would give the town more control over things that are important to residents.

“You can address that trash in a neighbor’s yard or the three unregistered vehicles when you’re only allowed to have two, … and you can increase, potentially, the quality of life that you have by enforcing your ordinances more robustly,” he said.

Councilor Michael Colasante said he was concerned that a municipal court might open the door to traffic ticket quotas.

“As the solicitor said, the generating part is going to be the police end of it, and again, I don’t want to get a phone call, Chief, I know you won’t do this, but you know, the tongue in cheek is, ‘guys, we gotta tag people because revenue is down and we’re in the red this month and we gotta generate some tickets,’” he said.

“We enforce the law,” Police Chief Elwood Johnson responded. “The officers, I’m not telling these guys when to write a ticket.”

Colasante said three members of his family were in law enforcement.

“I’m just saying, just to protect you, like I would protect my relatives, all right? who are in law enforcement, that, you know, you don’t need that extra perception of, you know, having to cover the force because last month we were in the black, so this month, we have to be in the red kind of deal, and then they see a spike in ticket-generating revenue.”

Johnson replied,

“I appreciate what you’re saying and frankly, I have complete faith in our personnel to uphold the law, do the right thing and not try to fill coffers with the idea of generating more revenue by writing more tickets. It’s not what I see happening.”

Council Vice President Richard Nassaney said he had observed police officers using their discretion in issuing traffic tickets, and he described the implication that they might increase ticketing as insulting.

“These guys are professional,” he said. “They are not here to make the budget. They’re there to protect and they do an amazing job, and to say anything otherwise, quite honestly, is an insult to our officers that protect us.”

Wilcox made a motion, which the council approved, to ask Kenyon to prepare a staff report on the financial costs and personnel that would be involved if the town were to have a municipal court.

 

 

Reports

 

Johnson recounted a recent DUI arrest following a car crash on Feb. 10 near Richmond Elementary School.

“A westbound vehicle, coming down the hill, heading towards that curve that bears right, failed to negotiate that curve,” Johnson said. “A vehicle traveling eastbound, a woman from West Warwick in a much smaller vehicle, he was in a Ford Explorer, she was in a small sedan, I think it was a Saturn, he crosses the double yellow lines and hits her head-on.”

The crash did not result in serious injuries, but the officer at the scene determined that the operator of the SUV, who admitted to taking his eyes off the road to look at his phone, was intoxicated, having failed field sobriety tests administered at the scene.

 

Town Administrator Karen Pinch requested and received approval from the council to promote Department of Public Works employee Robert Doucette to the position of Superintendent. Doucette replaces Gary Robar, who was recently named Director of the department.

Pinch also asked the council to approve $25,000 in American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, funds for a new Town Hall Sign. The sign, made of wood, will include an LED display of town events, replacing the sandwich board the town currently uses.

The council also approved the lowest of four bids to purchase a new truck for the public works department. The winning bid, for $206, 551, was submitted by Freightliner of Hartford Inc.

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Residents Voice Concerns, but Still Approve Building Committee at Chariho Budget Hearing

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

March 6th 2024

WOOD RIVER JUNCTION – The annual public hearing Tuesday evening on the Chariho School District budget was so sparsely attended that it took an additional half hour to round up the quorum of 75 voters required for the hearing to begin.

“We didn’t have a quorum until it was, probably, 8 o’clock,” School Committee Chair Catherine Giusti said.

The committee heard comments about the proposed Fiscal Year 2024-25 schools budget, and also received residents’ approvals of the formation of a Building Committee and the allocation of $15,000 to that committee. The hearing lasted about 52 minutes.

“The public budget meeting is something mandated by the Chariho Act, that we have to hold every year,” Giusti said. “Complicating the meeting last night, we then had to vote on forming a Building Committee that would start working on the building project, should the bond pass, and we also had to vote on giving a stipend to the Building Committee should they have expenses before the bond is finalized.”

The proposed bond would authorize the district to borrow up to $150 million to build three new elementary schools to replace the four aging buildings currently in use. At the Feb. 6 Richmond Town Council meeting, council members, with Council Vice President Richard Nassaney and councilor Samantha Wilcox opposed, approved a resolution opposing the bond proposal.

Several residents at the hearing expressed their opposition to the bond, but there were no outbursts. The next day, however, Giusti called out Richmond Republicans for what she described as their apparent resistance to the bond referendum.

“The Richmond Republicans and the Forgotten Taxpayers [political action committee] who seem to be the same group, don’t seem to want the bond to go before the voters,” she said. “And that signals to me that they don’t trust the voters. We saw this when they illegally appointed the head of the Forgotten Taxpayers, Clay Johnson, to the vacant School Committee seat. If they had listened to the will of the voters then, they could have saved Richmond taxpayers over $20,000 in legal fees and unnecessary angst.”

 

The Residents Speak

 

Several people told the committee at the hearing that they supported the budget.

Former School Committee member Ronald Areglado, of Charlestown, suggested that towns whose share of the Chariho budget is larger, namely Hopkinton and Richmond, should acknowledge that enrollment increases in those towns are due to continued development. The towns’ shares of the Chariho budget are determined by their school enrollment figures.

“There are variables that really drive this budget and it’s called students,” he said. “If you look at the population trends of the three towns, you’ll discover there’s a disproportionate number of people moving to certain towns as opposed to others. That is a cost consideration that cannot be underestimated or overlooked.”

Some residents said the district didn’t need new schools.

“Children don’t learn from a building, they learn from dedicated teachers,” one Hopkinton man told the committee. “We’ve got a lot of great leaders in this country who grew up in a one-room school house and got a great education. Our taxes are going through the roof. Time’s up.”

 

Residents approved the formation of the Building Committee. They also approved the transfer of $15,000 from the fund balance in the district’s current budget to cover the committee’s initial expenses.

During the discussion of the Building Committee, Richmond Town Council member Michael Colasante attempted to describe capital project budget overruns in other cities and towns.

“The Building Committee, that’s going to be their scope. What concerns me is that the building committees, what I see in other towns, it’s really outside the scope and the expertise of a lot of these folks,” he said, before moderator Charles Beck stopped him.

“I don’t think that’s pertaining to the formation of the committee,” Beck said.

Colasante persisted.

“What I want to say about the Building Committee is, I’ve seen in the other towns, they’ve tried and they’ve been $30 million over budget, $40 million over budget. You’re going to develop a Building Committee, and my concern is what is the expertise of these folks?” he said.

Superintendent of Schools Gina Picard explained that the Building Committee, comprising representatives from the School Committee and the three towns, would be required by the state to work under the guidance of a state-appointed architect and project manager.

 

More Hope Valley School Drama

 

Residents intent on preserving Hope Valley Elementary School are still fighting to keep Hopkinton’s second elementary school open. The School Committee has voted to add $437,000 back into the Chariho budget for the maintenance of the school.  In a new development, about a week ago, Hopkinton residents found cards in their mailboxes asking them to contribute to a legal defense fund which would pay Westerly attorney Kelly Fracassa to sue the school district for cancelling two kindergarten classes at Hope Valley School. The text on the card claims that the cancellations constitute a violation of the Chariho Act. It is not known who composed or sent the post cards.

Chariho administrators have stated that the classes were cancelled because of declining enrollment, which the message on the card disputes.

“Declining enrollment? Not in kindergarten,” the text reads. “36 parents with preschoolers were shocked to learn at one recent meeting, their preschoolers would not be attending kindergarten. No plan was presented. The parents still do not know what school their young children will attend.”

Asked about the postcards, Guisti, a Hope Valley resident, said she had received one and was disturbed that no one had claimed responsibility for the initiative.

“I’m fascinated that they expect people to send money to this lawyer without ever saying ‘this is who’s asking you to send money,’” she said.

Fracassa did not respond to a request for comment.

 

Hope Valley School Will Close Anyway

 

On March 12, the School Committee will make the final changes to the budget and vote on adopting it. The budget referendum is on April 9.

Guisti said she was expecting that the $437,000 that was added back into the budget for Hope Valley School, (raising the property tax rate in Richmond) would end up being cut from the final spending plan. Hope Valley School, she said, would be closing, regardless of whether the bond passes in the May 7 referendum.

“It’s sad for me, my little hometown place, but there’s no way we can afford it. There’s just no way,” she said.

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Police Arrest Hopkinton Man in Explosives Incident

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

March 4th 2024

HOPKINTON – More than 100 people called the Hopkinton Police early Sunday evening to report several loud explosions that originated in Hopkinton but were heard as far away as Richmond, Charlestown and Westerly. As the volume of calls quickly overwhelmed the telephone lines, including the 911 emergency line, police located the source of the explosions and arrested Clark’s Falls resident, Daniel Bill.

 

A Flood of Calls

 

Hopkinton Police Chief Mark Carrier said the town posted an appeal on social media on Sunday evening, assuring residents that they were safe and asking them not to call the police.

“At 5:26 on a Sunday afternoon our dispatch received over 100 phone calls in a short amount of time,” he said. “We are a small community, small dispatch center. We have one person working two phone lines, and also a 911 line. Every single phone line was lit up. This poor dispatcher working that night, he couldn’t answer the phone fast enough.”

Carrier noted that residents needing emergency assistance were unable to get through because the volume of calls about the explosions had jammed the phone lines.

“Anybody else that’s needing any type of assistance, they’re having a heart attack, an accident, how are you going to call in when we’re getting bombarded,” he said. “It was so problematic that we asked our social media guy, Detective [John] Forbes to put up a post. He was off. …That’s why that posting was put up, not to say ‘hey listen, don’t bother us. It’s Sunday afternoon. We’re trying to watch TV.’ It’s because he legitimately couldn’t answer the phone fast enough.”

Police traced the explosions to a farm at 34 Clark’s Falls Road, where they arrested 20-year-old Daniel Bill.

“We had probable cause, right away last night, to make an arrest,” Carrier said Monday. “We arrested a 20-year-old resident, Daniel Bill, and we’re charging him with one count of felony detonating of explosive devices. …With the assistance of the Rhode Island State Fire Marshall’s Office and the Rhode Island Bomb Squad and the Ashaway Fire Department, there were no injuries, gladly to report, no property damage, gladly to report. This is a farm, which is a good thing, but the problem I have as the Police Chief is, when you’re setting off explosive devices that are so powerful that people in Westerly and Charlestown and Richmond are hearing it and everybody has to call 911 to figure out what that was,  and make sure everybody is safe, it’s going to the extreme.”

 

 

What is Tannerite?

 

Invented by Daniel Jeremy Tanner in 1996, Tannerite is legal in Rhode Island, and can be purchased by people over the age of 18. It is what is known as a “binary explosive,” because it is not explosive on its own, and must be struck by a high-velocity bullet to detonate. It is sometimes used at shooting ranges to make targets explode.

“How you detonate Tannerite, is, by the manufacturer’s recommendations, is to shoot a projectile into it,” Carrier said. “Tannerite has been out for a number of years. I am sure Tannerite has been used in the Town of Hopkinton a number of times throughout the years.”

 

Incident Still Under Investigation

 

Sunday’s incident begs the question, if Tannerite has been used before in Hopkinton, why did it provoke such a reaction this time?

“I would say that the individuals using this weren’t following the manufacturer’s recommendations of usage,” Carrier said. “It’s still under investigation with the state Fire Marshall’s office, the Bomb Squad and our detectives. … There’s no way we’d get that many calls on that substance. It had to be used with something to make the effects a little more. There’s a number of ways you can do that.”

 

Daniel Bill was arraigned and released on $1,000 personal recognizance. He was not alone at the time of his arrest, and Carrier said others might be charged.

 

“The investigation is ongoing and it’s possible more arrests are going to come of this,” he said.

Modest Tax Increase in Proposed Town Budget

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

February 29th 2024

RICHMOND – The process of preparing the town’s budget has begun, and it will be the budget exercise for Finance Director Laura Kenyon, who recently announced that she will be retiring in May. Kenyon has served as the town’s Finance Director for five years.

 

Dubbed the “Town Administrator” budget, because Town Administrator Karen Pinch will present it to the Town Council, the Fiscal year 2024-25 spending plan is far from final. Members of the town’s Finance Board held their first meeting to discuss the proposed budget only recently, on Feb. 26.

 

Municipal vs Chariho

 

The budget has two distinct components: municipal, which the town controls and education, over which it has little control.

“Very little has changed on the municipal side of the budget on the expense side,” Kenyon said. “The Chariho budget, the town has very little say as to what the dollar amounts are going to be, so we just put those into our budget.”

The Chariho budget is expected to change. The amount of state aid to the school district will not be known until the General Assembly approves the state budget in June. In addition, the outcome of a proposal to borrow up to $150 million to build three new elementary schools to replace the district’s four aging school buildings is in doubt, facing stiff opposition, particularly in Richmond and Hopkinton.

Richmond’s proposed budget contains just under $22 million for schools, an increase of $233,799 over the current year. Recently, however, the school committee added funds back into the Chariho budget for repairs to Hope Valley Elementary School, so Kenyon said the final figures are still to be determined.

“They’re still not set in stone,” she said. “We’re still waiting for the Governor’s budget to be approved, and we’re still waiting for the School Committee and the residents to vote on the school budget.”

 

Property Taxes

 

The proposed budget contained good news for homeowners, a decrease in the property tax rate, from the current rate of $14.75 to $14.68. But that changed when the School Committee returned $437,000 to the Chariho budget for repairs to Hope Valley Elementary School. That amendment will result in a slight increase in the property tax rate, to $14.80.

Disgruntled taxpayers have stated, incorrectly, that taxes have increased by 80% over the past decade.

After conducting an analysis of town budgets from 2012 to 2024, Kenyon said it was important to make a distinction between the municipal budget as a whole, and that portion that comes from property taxes. While municipal budgets have increased by 81%, taxes have increased by only 29%.

“The municipal budget has increased from $4.2 million in Fiscal year 12 to $7.7 million in 2024, which is an increase of $3.5 million, or 81%, however, revenue from taxes has gone from $15.8 million to $20.3 million for an increase of $4.5 million, which is a 29 % increase in taxes,” Kenyon said.

“The taxes haven’t gone up that much,” Town Council President Mark Trimmer added. “It’s unfortunate for the town employees that the wages haven’t gone up that much, either. The only advantage we have to offer anyone is that it’s a low-stress environment, and that’s changed with the new politics in town, which is really unfortunate. And so, we’re going to continue to lose people.”

Kenyon’s analysis can be viewed on the town’s website under the tab: “Budget Analysis FY-12 to FY-24.”

 

The Municipal Budget

 

The municipal budget, at the time of this writing, will be $7.9 million, an increase of $192,789 or 2%. That total includes $1.8 million in state aid, $3.9 million in town taxes, and a fund balance, or surplus, of $309,948, or 16.2%. The town could tap into the fund balance if the expected state aid, either to Chariho or to the town, is significantly reduced, but it is standard practice to maintain a fund balance of two months of reserve, or 16.6%, so there isn’t much leeway.

There have been no new hires, but other factors have contributed to an increase in personnel costs: A 3% cost of living increase on wages, and an increase of 10% in the cost of health and dental benefits.

 

Operating Expenses

 

The town has budgeted an additional $8,000 for legal services for the upcoming police contract negotiations, but by far the biggest increase has been the cost of electricity, which has gone from $.06 per kilowatt hour to $.12.

“One of the major increases in this year’s operating budget is the doubling of cost for electricity,” Pinch said.

Pinch also noted that the budget for upcoming elections will also increase.

 “With this being a presidential election year, in addition to local races and referenda, our costs for election officials has increased significantly,” she said. “This is compounded by the mandate for 20 days of early voting for some of these.”

The town’s budget for election officials is $14,050, a 140% increase over the current year. The budget for election supplies, such as ballots, has increased by 200% to $1,500.

 

 

Capital Improvement Plan

 

The capital budget is level funded at $9,570,864.

The budget allocates $2.5 million for road repairs, which are funded by a voter-approved bond. Debt service on the bond is $300,000. The other large capital expenses are $529,694 for public works equipment replacement and $102, 847 for the replacement of police vehicles.

 

Trimmer said he was grateful to town employees for keeping expenses down.

“It’s a very lean budget…and I feel that our town employees are incredibly responsible and frugal when it comes to spending money,” he said. “With unfunded [state] mandates, it does cost more to run a town than it used to, but we’ve found work-arounds and we still run like a small town, which is a good thing.”

 

The Budget Timeline

 

March 5: Public hearing, Chariho Budget

April 9: Chariho budget referendum

April 10: Town Council budget workshop

April 16: Budget public hearing

May 7: School bond referendum

May 8: Budget public hearing

June 3: Richmond budget referendum

Nassaney Ethics Complaint Tossed, Colasante Probe Extended

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

February 27th 2024

PROVIDENCE – Members of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission voted during the executive session of their Feb. 27 meeting to dismiss a complaint against Town Council Vice President Richard Nassaney. They also voted to extend the investigation period for a complaint against council member Michael Colasante, in order to investigate in greater depth the allegations against him.

 

The Nassaney Complaint

 

The commission’s Feb. 8, 2024 Investigative Report, summarizes the complaint by Nell Carpenter in Sept. 2023.

Carpenter alleged that Nassaney had violated the Rhode Island Code of Ethics when he participated in council discussions regarding a complaint to the town by Pasquale Farms Garden Center against the electrical inspector at the time, Jeffrey Vaillancourt.

The violation involved Nassaney’s bottled sauces, and his sale, in Oct. 2022, of two cases of the sauce to Pasquale Farms to sell at the garden center.

 

The Vaillancourt Connection

 

Pasquale Farms’ owner, Lauren Pasquale, and her husband Frank, first encountered Vaillancourt when they decided to expand their operation and required an electrical inspection in order to obtain a license from the town to hold music and food truck events.

Frank Pasquale complained to the town that Vaillancourt had used vulgar language and made inappropriate comments when he went to the garden center to discuss the upgrades. Pasquale asked the town to assign another inspector, and the town sent Michael Rosso, who issued the permit for the required minor electrical upgrades.

(It should be noted that following additional complaints about his comportment, Vaillancourt was dismissed at the Jan. 30, 2024 council meeting. Rosso is now the town’s Electrical Inspector.)

The Town Council discussed Pasquale Farms matter, as well as a second complaint about Vaillancourt from another local business, during the executive session of the June 6, 2023 council meeting. When the council returned to open session, councilor Samantha Wilcox made a motion, which Nassaney seconded, to terminate Vaillancourt. But after further discussion, Nassaney seconded another motion, made by Michael Colasante, to extend Vaillancourt’s probation rather than dismiss him.

 

The Ethics Commission’s investigation concluded that the case did not meet the criteria to establish a violation of the Code of Ethics because:

  • Nassaney would have to have an established business relationship with Pasquale Farms during the period in which Vaillancourt’s behavior was called into question and he did not.

  • He would have had to have taken what the commission calls “official action” that would have financially benefitted Pasquale Farms, which he did not take.

  • There was no contract between Nassaney and Pasquale Farms.

 

The Commission issued the following conclusion, stating that,

 “… no conflict of interest exists when a prior business relationship between a public official and a private party has ended, and there is no ongoing or specific business relationship between the parties. In determining whether a relationship between two parties constitutes an ongoing business association, the Commission examines the nature of the association, the scope of the business dealings between the parties, and whether the parties are conducting ongoing business transactions, have outstanding accounts, or there exists an anticipated future relationship.”

 

There was no ongoing business relationship between Nassaney and Pasquale Farms on June 6, 2023, when Nassaney participated in a council discussion about Vaillancourt’s conduct at Pasquale Farms.

 

The Decision

 

Commission Chair, Marisa Quinn, read the decision when the commission returned to open session.

“The commission voted 6-0 to find that there does not exist probable cause to believe that the respondent, Richard Nassaney, a member of the Richmond Town Council, violated Rhode Island General Laws § 36-14-5(a), 5(d), or Commission regulation 1.2.1(A)(2) by participating in voting in a disciplinary hearing on June 6, 2023 regarding the town’s electrical inspector,” she stated. “The complaint is dismissed, with prejudice.”

 

(“With prejudice” means that the decision is final and the plaintiff, in this case, Nell Carpenter, cannot file the same complaint again.)

 

Nassaney said after the hearing that he was relieved to hear the decision.

“Going, in, you’re always concerned, because you never know what the commission is going to say or do,” he said. “But in my heart, I knew I was going to be exonerated.”

Nassaney noted that this was the ninth ethics complaint Carpenter has filed against him, and all of them have been dismissed.

 

The Colasante Complaint Warrants Further Investigation

 

The Ethics Commission has 180 days to complete investigations of ethics complaints, but members can approve extensions, if there is “good cause.” In the case of councilor Michael Colasante, the commission has decided that there is good cause, and has chosen to further investigate two complaints, one filed by council President Mark Trimmer and the second by council Vice President Richard Nassaney.

 

Trimmer’s Complaint Against Colasante

 

Trimmer’s complaint, filed in Sept. 2023, alleges that former electrical inspector Jeffrey Vaillancourt had an “ongoing business relationship” with Colasante and was doing electrical work at Colasante’s Buttonwoods Road sawmill. Colasante argued that that no money had changed hands, however, the business relationship continued during the period when the council held two disciplinary hearings on Vaillancourt’s behavior, hearings from which Colasante refused to recuse himself, and actively participated and voted.

 

Nassaney’s Complaint Against Colasante

 

Filed in Nov. 2023, Nassaney’s complaint states that Colasante had a business relationship with D’Ambra Construction in Aug. 2023, when he voted to award a contract for the paving of North Road to D’Ambra. Not long after the vote, during the first week of September, a truck from Richmond Sand and Stone, a company owned by D’Ambra, delivered material for a retaining wall to Colasante’s property on Buttonwoods Road.

 

D’Ambra trucks were observed on the Colasante property on Oct. 13, and at the Oct. 17 Town Council meeting, Colasante voted to award another paving contract, this time for Tug Hollow Road, to D’Ambra. On Oct. 18, the day after the paving contract was awarded to D’Ambra, Nassaney’s complaint states the company was observed at Colasante’s Buttonwoods property “installing the retaining wall material and grading his property for a future driveway.”

 

Commission Chair Marisa Quinn read the decision to extend the investigation beyond 180 days.

“The commission voted 6-0 to find that the record was established that good cause exists and to grant the prosecution’s motion to enlarge time for investigation, first extension of 60 days to May 11, 2024 to conclude the investigation, conduct a probable cause hearing and issue related findings,” she said.

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New Rail Study Raises New Fears

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

February 24th 2024

Residents of Southern Rhode Island and Southeastern Connecticut believed that they had prevailed in 2017, after working together to defeat an Amtrak proposal that would have brought tracks through the centers of several historic communities, farms and open space. But the issue of increasing passenger rail speed and capacity remains unresolved, and Amtrak will soon embark on a new study to determine the needs of the region. Despite promises of community engagement, residents and officials still worry that, like the mythical Phoenix, the Kenyon-Old Saybrook bypass may rise again.

 

Richmond was one of the towns that opposed the bypass route. At the Jan. 17, 2017 Town Council meeting, councilors endorsed neighboring Charlestown’s resolution opposing the plan.

The proposed route of the bypass would have had significant impacts on the Pawcatuck River, now designated by the National Park Service as “Wild and Scenic.” The new tracks would have crossed the Biscuit City fishing area, eliminating both the parking space and river access. Several additional neighborhoods, such as Lewiston Avenue, would have been affected. A more detailed description of the impacts in Richmond can be found here.  

The bypass proposal, opposed by then-Gov. Gina Raimondo, was shelved, but now, a new study has rekindled fears that there will be a renewed effort to route high-speed trains through southern RI.

 

What is Amtrak Planning?

 

The Federal Railroad Administration has received up to $4 million in federal funding to conduct the “New Haven to Providence Capacity Planning Study,” or CPS, to find ways to improve rail service and increase rail capacity between New Haven and Providence.  A copy of the introduction to the study, obtained by BRVCA, differentiates the new CPS from the previous, ill-fated study that included the Kenyon – Old Saybrook bypass. This time, the stated goal of the new study will be to minimize “effects on both the natural and human built environments.”

Rhode Island Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti, who represented Rhode Island during the 2017 study, was opposed to the Kenyon – Old Saybrook bypass proposal. Asked to comment on the new study, RIDOT spokesman Charles St. Martin said requests should be directed to Amtrak, so BRVCA contacted the rail company.

Amtrak’s Senior Public Relations Manager, Jason Abrams, said the Federal Railroad Administration has determined that rail and automobile traffic between the northeastern cities is approaching, or has already returned to pre-COVID levels, and is expected to continue to grow.

“Through the NEC (Northeast Corridor) FUTURE planning process, which was completed in July 2017 with the publication of a Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Record of Decision (ROD), the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has defined a long-term vision for the future role of passenger rail service on the Northeast Corridor (NEC).,” Abrams explained in an emailed response. “This vision supports the projected population and employment growth in the region by upgrading aging infrastructure and expanding capacity along the NEC. To achieve this vision, the FRA has defined an incremental approach which includes the New Haven to Providence CPS as a key component. The CPS will consider both improvements to the existing intercity passenger rail alignment through the study and new alignment segments.”

The introduction to the CPS study states that the new initiative will provide an opportunity to “conduct a robust and inclusive public outreach effort to understand the needs of local communities.”

Abrams confirmed that community engagement in the process would be a priority this time.

“Based on the lessons learned from the prior planning work, the New Haven to Providence CPS will employ an inclusive, innovative approach to outreach and community engagement in partnership with all relevant stakeholders, residents, and businesses,” he said. “The outcome will be a strategy to address the long-term mobility and economic development of the study area while being mindful of critical historical, resiliency, and community development issues. Upon conclusion, a Final Report will be prepared with the results of public outreach and community engagement; the alternatives analysis of potential rail alignment, infrastructure, and operational options between New Haven and Providence; and next steps.”

Abrams also noted that any needed improvements identified during the course of the study would be subjected to further public consultation.

“The implementation of infrastructure improvements identified through this process will be subject to additional planning, design, and community engagement,” he said. “Our intent will be to develop any proposed improvements in close coordination with local communities and stakeholders, to develop solutions that are acceptable to those groups and that attempt to address a wide range of issues. We are committed to making the outreach and planning processes inclusive and continuous to avoid surprising local communities with ideas and concepts that they have not been involved in creating.”

 

The new study also states that Amtrak does not intend to “return to previously proposed alignments,” which means the controversial 2017 rail proposal is probably dead. Asked whether Amtrak might, in the future, consider reviving the bypass, Abrams said,

“At this point, we have not formally initiated the study and cannot comment on which specific ideas, concepts, and solutions will be included or not included. However, it is important to note that we are aware of the concerns expressed about some of the NEC FUTURE proposals and are determined to learn from the project's history.”

 

Is the Kenyon-Old Saybrook Bypass Really Dead? What Might Replace it?

 

In Charlestown, where officials remain wary of Amtrak’s plans, Town Council President Deborah Carney will introduce a resolution at the Feb. 26 Town Council meeting opposing any consideration of a possible revival of the bypass. Carney wrote the resolution with Charlestown dairy farm owner and bypass opponent, Kim Coulter. The old bypass, including a tunnel, would have cut through her farm.

“I pulled the resolution from 2017 and Kim Coulter and I are reviewing it for current relevancy, to see if there’s anything we need to change, or amend in that resolution, and I will put that draft copy, along with the backup information, for the February 26 Town Council, just so we’re officially on the record in stating our opposition to our United States Senators and Representatives to any resurgence of the Old Saybrook-Kenyon bypass,” she said.

Carney noted that Charlestown officials were making an effort to go on record now with their opposition.

“We are remaining very diligent, and trying to stay on top of everything as best we can,” she said. “That’s why we are going officially on the record with our senators and representatives, so if anything comes up, they know this is where we still stand in the process.”

 

The resolution, which at the time of this publication, was still to be approved by council members, reads in part:

“WHEREAS the scope of this project and the impact of the route on the Town of Charlestown would have: Destroyed dozens of private homes; decimated the historic mill villages of Burdickville, Columbia Heights and Kenyon; crossed land owned by the Narragansett, a federally recognized Indian Tribe; fragmented historic and active farmland; fragmented the Francis Carter Preserve, a major land holding of The Nature Conservancy along the Pawcatuck River; and passed through and/or destroyed numerous publicly and privately owned open space otherwise protected in perpetuity;”

“WHEREAS the Capacity Planning Study is an alternative analysis to identify and evaluate; new potential rail alignment alternatives; improvements to existing rail lines; focused on the project planning phase; an opportunity to conduct a robust and inclusive public outreach effort and to understand the needs of local communities; and WHEREAS the Capacity Planning Study is not a direct continuation of NEC FUTURE. It is not a return to previously proposed alignments; and WHEREAS the Town of Charlestown seeks to make it known to all that the Town is opposed to any revival of the Old Saybrook to Kenyon Bypass.”

“NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Town Council of the Town of Charlestown hereby opposes a revival of the Old Saybrook to Kenyon Bypass; and a Packet Pg. 91 Attachment: Resolution-FRA-draft (10158 : Resolution Opposing FRA Old Saybrook to Kenyon Bypass) 2 BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town Clerk is hereby authorized to send a copy of this resolution to U.S. Senator Jack Reed, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Congressman Seth Magaziner, Governor Dan McKee, and Narragansett Indian Tribe Chief Sachem Anthony Dean Stanton.”

 

Lingering Issues

 

The original Kenyon-Old Saybrook bypass surprised many residents with the lack of awareness of its significant impacts on the Connecticut towns of Old Lyme, Mystic and Stonington and in Rhode Island, Charlestown, Richmond and Westerly. The bypass was not endorsed in the final Record of Decision, issued in July, 2017, but it is important to keep in mind that solutions for the New Haven to Providence route remain unresolved, and the new CPS, which is expected to begin this spring, will be completed in 18 to 24 months.

 

Even before the study begins, Amtrak has reiterated its commitment to “continued stakeholder outreach,” and representatives of the communities that might be affected are waiting to be invited to the table.

Charlestown Planning Commission Chair Ruth Platner, who found out about the old bypass proposal while watching the news on television, said that while the bypass had been removed from the final decision, Amtrak was still required to increase its capacity.

“They have to increase capacity, they have to increase speed,” she said. “So, that means that the solution that was in there before, the bypass, was taken out, but nothing was put in its place and the solution that was offered, the problem that it was solving, is still there.”

Platner described two possible alternate routes. One route mostly follows Interstate 95, like the old bypass. The second route goes inland.

“One of the possibilities was the inland route that went from New Haven to Hartford and then to Providence,” she said. “That was also incredibly destructive, in that it would go through western Rhode Island, and the western border of Rhode Island is undeveloped and it’s incredibly important for a wildlife corridor, a climate corridor for wildlife, and it’s currently has a lot of preserved land, so it’s very similar to Charlestown.”

Neither Amtrak nor the Connecticut Department of Transportation appears to favor the inland route, however, Platner said she didn’t know what a rejection of the inland route might mean.

“There’s no information being passed back and forth between the people who are doing the planning and the communities, and that’s what missing,” she said.

Amtrak’s insufficient public outreach in 2016 and 2017 has left residents and officials in eastern Connecticut and southern Rhode Island skittish about what might come next. Although the Capacity Planning Study will not even launch until the spring, Platner said Amtrak should be communicating with stakeholders now.

“I don’t believe that they’re doing anything wrong,” she said. “I have no knowledge that anything has happened, but because they had such a failed public process before, and because what they proposed was so devastating to the environment, historic resources, to people’s homes, they ought to want to start with a very public engagement with a really open process, because people will assume, and I assume, that they don’t have any other ideas, because I’ve only heard of two, and one has been taken off the table. So if they have another idea, no one knows what it is, and again, the people in the path of that other idea ought to know, too.”

Another DEM Grant for Shannock Village

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

February 21st 2024

RICHMOND – The Shannock Mill project has received a third grant from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management for the remediation of contamination at the site. The latest $350,000 grant follows two previous grants, of $429,000 and $235,280, from the state’s Brownfield and Economic Development program.

Property owner and developer Jeffrey Marlowe, of Newport, lived in one of the houses on the property when he was in his 20s. As his appreciation grew for the historic and aesthetic qualities of the village, Marlowe began buying and rehabilitating the old houses. In 2013, with guidance from Geoffrey Marchant, who at the time was Director of the Community Development Consortium, Marlowe spearheaded the $1.7 million modernization of the Shannock Water District water system. Then, in 2020, he purchased the mill property at the center of the village.

Marlowe’s plan is to build market rate and affordable housing and small-scale businesses, abutting a public green space by the river. The project aligns with several state priorities.

“This just hits a lot of them, you know?” Marlowe said. “It cleans up a brownfield, environmental justice in an otherwise low to mod affordable housing community. … Shannock’s always been a working - class neighborhood and the buzzword these days is, of course, ‘workforce housing’ and Shannock was always workforce housing.”

Shannock Mill is expected to qualify for a greater density of housing units, because of its affordable housing component.

“Any residential units you build under new construction, 25% of those would have to be deeded affordable housing. When I say ‘deeded,’ I mean 30 years deeded,” Marlowe explained. “We really haven’t gotten into this at the town level yet. There’s been a change of planning officers there.”

Two mills once anchored the site: the Clark Cotton Mill/Columbia Narrow Fabrics Company built in 1848 in the center of the village, and to the West, the Carmichael Mill complex, rebuilt in 1885 after a fire destroyed the original structure.  

The mill buildings and several additional structures, which had been vacant for 50 years, were unsalvageable. Marlowe’s crew razed those buildings, a project that was complicated by the permits required for asbestos abatement and demolition. Despite the  largely undeveloped state of the site, the Horseshoe Falls dam and the Pawcatuck River flowing past the property give the village an undeniable charm. Shannock Village was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

The Wood-Pawcatuck watershed was designated in 2019 as “Wild and Scenic” by the National Park Service, and the Shannock Mill project enjoys the support of the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association. Members of the Wood-Pawcatuck Wild and Scenic Rivers Stewardship Council stopped by recently, to meet with Marlowe and hear an update on his progress.

 

The Remediation Continues

 

The challenge now facing Marlowe’s team is removing the remaining oil-contaminated soil. Efforts to work with Amtrak to remediate an adjacent contaminated parcel it owns have been unsuccessful.

“We ended up getting huge impact crushers on-site to crush up a lot of the cement,” Marlowe said. “These were the piers that were in the floor of the mill that they used to anchor all the weaving and looms to. The only buildings that are remaining are the turbine room building and the adjacent cut stone granite foundation. … Originally, the mill was sited there and they had a turbine located there for mechanical power. It was all belt drive at one point, then they put in a new hydropower turbine that then was electrified - the mill.”

 

Housing and Commercial Plans

 

Two recently-completed affordable housing projects, Richmond Ridge in Richmond and Shannock Village, just over the line in Charlestown, are very close to Shannock Village.

“Richmond dropped their Richmond Ridge in over there, 32 units, and then, Charlestown dropped in the Shannock Village Cottages, 11 units, and I know there’s concern,” Marlowe said, noting that Shannock Mill will offer both market rate and affordable housing.

“We don’t want to throw 100% affordable in the midst of the village and I’m fully in agreement on that,” he said.

The housing, which is expected to comprise 14 units, four of them affordable rentals, will be built at the North Road end of the property.

“Up along the road here, create some housing,” Marlowe said, pointing to a rendering of the site. “This is North Road right across here. So, the idea was, create sort of a four-way intersection, not that there’d be stop signs on all four, but access into the site would be right across from North Road. The beauty of that is, as you’re coming up that elevation grade change, you’re not putting headlights in somebody’s living room.”

Marlowe is also planning a commercial space for the old turbine building.

“I think that turbine building and the structure adjacent to it could really be a beautiful space, with decks open to the river,” he said.

With so much permitting and fundraising still ahead, Marlowe does not have a target completion date.

“We’re going to spend the remainder of this year, probably into early next year, doing the remediation with this latest round of grant funding,” he said. “We should get a long way and this should get us across the finish line, unless there’s some sort of pocket of additional contaminated soils that we haven’t discovered. … What I’m so grateful for, and I know I’m just sounding like a Pollyanna here, but I am, is that the state stuck with us on this project.”

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Richmond Model Walks at NY Fashion Week

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

February 17th 2024

Our Oct. 6 2023 story about Richmond resident Elly Nehnavaj and her modeling career generated a tremendous response. We thought our readers would be interested in learning about her latest adventure.

 

RICHMOND – After overcoming multiple physical challenges to model in Rhode Island Fashion Week last September, Elisabeth “Elly” Nehnevaj, recently returned from walking an even bigger runway, at New York Fashion Week.

Nehnevaj found out just before the Christmas holiday that she would be in one of the New York shows. She traveled from Richmond with her husband, Joe, to her parents’ home in New Jersey and from there, the family took a train to New York City for the show, which took place on Feb. 9.

 

Getting Ready

 

In the weeks leading up to the show, Nehnevaj said her preparation focused on the basics.

“Healthy diet, exercise - not too much. You don’t want to overdo it,” she said. “Just a healthy diet, and a lot of stretching. A lot of people think ‘oh, you’re just walking up and down the catwalk. That’s something anybody can do.’ But it’s actually pretty strenuous. … It’s a lot, and you’ve really got to make sure your body is stretched well enough and hydrated, so you don’t end up cramping up.”

Nahnevaj admitted to being nervous before she walked the runway.

“I was shaking like a leaf right before, but as soon as my heels hit the floor, all of my stresses and worries just completely melted away and I was so focused on not falling and making sure I was walking slowly, steadily,” she said.

 

At just 4 feet 9 inches, Nehnevaj does not fit the typical profile of runway models, who are usually very tall. But “typical” no longer dominates a fashion industry that is evolving to include models of diverse ages and sizes, and Nehnevaj is finding her niche as a petite model.

In New York, Nehnevaj modeled for the designer “On the Go with Princess O,” whose clothes she had also shown in Rhode Island.

“They were the same designer who I walked for, for Rhode Island Fashion Week, and they had asked me to come back and walk for this show,” she said. “For our little group, there was about five of us ranging in all ages from five to 30.”

 

Overcoming Health Challenges

 

Nehnevaj was born with a rare blood disease, Fanconi anemia, which can affect many parts of the body. She has undergone two kidney transplants and is currently on dialysis as she waits for a third donor.

“I had to juggle all of my treatments with New York Fashion Week and luckily, that was not a problem,” she said. “I was able to have one of my treatments done in New Jersey before my show. Having a dream job and trying to juggle healthcare and managing health, it is a lot to handle, but I’m doing my best and keeping myself busy and doing the things I love to do.”

As exciting as it was to be in a big fashion show, Nehnevaj said she had also really enjoyed meeting other petite models. 

“Obviously, walking down that runway was a huge dream, but actually, meeting all the people and making new friends throughout this whole experience was really rewarding for me, because it was so fun being in a room filled with like-minded people, especially petite people like me.”

 

Future Projects

 

Nehnevaj is now looking ahead to her next project. She will be speaking at “Celebrate Women’s History” at the Boston Public Library’s Roxbury branch on March 13.

“I will be sharing my story with Fanconi anemia and chronic kidney failure,” she said.

She is also working with Naima Mora, winner of the reality television show “America’s Top Model” in 2005.

“When I was practicing my walk, she told me to think of a word, think of a special word, or a word that really makes you feel good, and you just keep saying that to yourself over and over again as you walk,” she said. “You’re trying to get yourself ready and hype yourself up to start walking, and that was really helpful. She knows about my personal story and she thought it was really cool – and I have her personal phone number now!”

Council Passes Resolution Opposing Chariho Proposal

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

February 7th 2024

RICHMOND – With Vice President Richard Nassaney and councilor Samantha Wilcox dissenting, a majority of the Town Council voted at Tuesdays meeting to approve a resolution opposing the proposal by the Chariho Regional School District to build three new elementary schools. It was a symbolic gesture, since it is the voters in the three towns, not the Town Councils, who will decide which of three options they want the district to pursue, but it is a possible indication of the depth of voter opposition to the plan. The resolution was introduced by council President, Mark Trimmer.

Three options have been presented for Chariho schools. The first would require the town to pass a bond of up to $150 million to build three new elementary schools. The second option, would involve the approval of a $30 million bond to repair and renovate the existing schools in what has been called the “warm, dry, safe” option, and the third option, costing approximately $7 million, would pay for improvements and repairs to the existing schools.

The text of the resolution had not been posted on the town’s website at the time of this writing, but Trimmer described its purpose at the meeting.

“We have a legacy to leave our children, and part of that legacy is to the public education that they receive,” he said. “But the other part of that legacy is not to get our society so deeply in debt that these children of ours are locked in. They’re yoked to work their entire lives paying taxes that grow and grow and grow.”

Trimmer cited several important facilities, including the police station and the public works building, that, in addition to the town’s roads, are in dire need of repair. He also warned that the town could find itself in a financial bind if it loses one or both current lawsuits, brought by The Preserve.

Trimmer advocated the two, safer, less costly options.

“I think there are other alternatives,” he said. “I do not support the building of a new school,” he said. “I support Option B or C, something in the middle, perhaps, where we pay as we go, and we address things and we renovate things.”

Wilcox said the final decision would be up to the voters.

“As councilors, or council President, we have no further or better or different say than any other registered voter,” she said. “So, I think that bringing a resolution like this to the table is unnecessary, unproductive. There’s no reason to lock your vote in right now.”

Councilor Michael Colasante, citing numerous conversations with officials in other towns (Cranston, Johnston, Newport) and construction companies (Gilbane), warned that with school districts throughout Rhode Island simultaneously undertaking large school construction projects in order to take advantage of state reimbursements, there would be shortages of labor and materials, which would in turn, lead to higher prices. 

“It’s my job, first and foremost, to protect the taxpayer, the ones that can least afford it,” he said.

Council member Helen Sheehan said she favored renovations and repairs over new construction. She also brought up the discrepancy in property taxes between Richmond and Hopkinton and Charlestown, where they are lower.

“The three new schools which have been proposed are almost identical,” she said. “… Charlestown taxpayers would only have to pay 25% of the cost while taxpayers in Richmond and Hopkinton pay 75% of the cost. This is not a fair distribution of expense. The tax burden should be equally shared.”

It should be noted that there is also a large discrepancy in the amount of state aid each town receives. The proposed Fiscal Year 2024-25 Chariho budget shows that Richmond and Hopkinton will receive considerably more than Charlestown in state aid to education. Richmond will receive $6.1 million, Hopkinton will get $6.6 million, and Charlestown will get $1.5 million.

 

The Public Weighs In

 

During the public comment period, School Committee member Jessica Purcell reminded the council that good schools were important drivers of the local economy.

“Our successful and well-managed school system brings new people to this area, brings back Chariho alumni to raise their families,” she said. “This opportunity to receive one of the highest reimbursement rates in the state is a once in a lifetime chance to thoughtfully plan for the short and long - term future of Chariho.”

Purcell then turned her attention to Trimmer.

“You are welcome to your own personal opinion, even if that means we disagree, but making a resolution like this, you are overstepping your purview,” she said.

But other residents applauded Trimmer for standing up for taxpayers.

“These people will be building an empire on the backs of the taxpayers,” one resident said. “…I want to thank you for your stance on this whole thing.”

Another resident raised the Charlestown tax issue.

“…We want [an] equalizing taxing district,” he said. “Before we go any further, get the tax situation straightened out. We can’t keep living the way it is now, with two towns hurting and the other one’s floating pretty.”

Jeff Noble, who supports the bond, attempted to explain why three new schools would make more financial sense than four old schools, because of the lower operating costs for new buildings.

“Yes, it’s going to take a lot to get there, but if we’re looking at our tax picture five or ten years out, it looks a lot better with these kinds of savings, and the only way we’re going to get it is by investing in our school system and not just doing ‘warm safe and dry.’”

Louise Dinsmore, founder of the “Chariho Forgotten Taxpayers” political action committee, thanked Trimmer for putting the resolution on the agenda.

“It takes a lot of political courage to put that on the agenda and I appreciate your considering this proposal,” she said.

Trimmer said Wednesday,

”The resolution will be that we reject Option A to build three new schools for $150 million as presented, period.”

Asked if he was leaving the door open to a possible compromise, he said,

“Yes, because I’m not a closed-minded person, if somebody can, at the 11th hour at the 11th day, show me something different.”

Trimmer also clarified a statement he made at the meeting about the project’s potential to financially “paralyze the town.”

“What I mean by that is, when a school budget and a school approach 90% of the portion of the property taxes that we pay, it leaves only 10% to run a municipal budget for a town, and that really severely limits what the Town Administrator can do and what the Town Council can do within the town,” he said.

The resolution passed. While a similar resolution has not been proposed in Hopkinton, several members of that Town Council have stated that they oppose the proposed bond for new school construction.

The bond referendum does not take place until May 7, so there is still plenty of time for voters in the three towns to consider the options.

 

The Canvassing Authority

 

At the request of the Richmond Democratic Town Committee, the council reconsidered the Jan. 16 appointment of Raymond Pouliot to the Canvassing Authority and ended up appointing him anyway. Pouliot replaces departing member, Tim Michaud, who is also a Republican.

Colasante made the original motion appointing Pouliot, later found to be a deviation from procedure, which requires the appointment to be made by the council President.

Two candidates, Pouliot, and Pamela Rohland, a Democrat who currently serves on the Authority as an alternate, were given a chance to tell the council why they wanted Michaud’s position.

As long as both Republicans and Democrats are represented on the committee, it is not necessary to replace a departing member with someone of the same party affiliation, but Trimmer said Wednesday that he had felt more comfortable nominating Pouliot, a Republican. Pouliot won the council vote, with Nassaney and Wilcox opposed.

 

Other Business

 

Town Solicitor Christopher Zangari was sworn in before the council meeting. The council also approved the hiring of Gary Robar to replace Scott Barber as Public Works Director and Electrical Inspector Michael Rosso, who replaces Jeffrey Vaillancourt, who was dismissed on Jan. 30 at a special Town Council meeting.

 

Town Planner Talia Jalette presented an update on the “Wood Pawcatuck Rivers Watershed Flood Protection Project” which the town co-sponsors with the National Resources Conservation Service. Jalette also discussed another NRCS initiative, the Emergency Watershed protection Program, which involves the purchases, by the NRCS, of permanent easements to help restore floodplains. Those purchases would include buying private homes at “fair market” prices, and demolishing them. Participation in the program is voluntary, but there are several additional issues that need further investigation.

 

The council approved the replacement of a culvert on Hillsdale Road to mitigate flooding from the Beaver River. Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association Executive Director Christopher Fox told the council that if approved, the town-owned culvert would be replaced by a structure with an open bottom that will allow aquatic organisms to pass through and will also have the capacity handle more water. The project will be completed in a single phase of construction, at no cost to the town.

The council voted to approve the project.

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Chariho, Canvasing Authority on Council Agenda

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

February 5th 2024

RICHMOND – At Tuesday’s Town Council meeting, members will discuss a proposal by council President Mark Trimmer to draft a resolution opposing the Chariho Regional School District’s new schools initiative.

Councilors will also be asked to reconsider the appointment of Raymond Pouliot to the Richmond Canvassing Authority.

 

The Chariho Resolution

 

Mark Trimmer will introduce a resolution opposing the proposal to go out to bond for up to $150 million to build three new elementary schools. The state would reimburse the district a base rate of 61%, which, with the addition of several “bonuses,” would increase to reimburse up to 81% of the cost. The second option, which would entail renovations to existing schools, would receive the base reimbursement of 61%. If the bond fails, the final option is to do emergency repairs only, which, for elementary schools, which were built more than 75 years ago, are expected to be increasingly costly.

Reached Monday, Trimmer said he could not support the new schools construction bond.

“Do we need new schools? That’s debatable,” he said. “Do we need $150 million worth of new debt that will paralyze the town and stop us from doing anything else? I’m not sure we do need that, and so, that’s why I feel it should be put on the agenda for discussion and the town should have its say as to whether or not this is a good idea.”

School Committee member Jessica Purcell, who also serves as the Vice Chair of the Richmond Democratic Town Committee, pointed out that the decision on the bond would be made by the School Committee, not the Town Council. In an email Monday, Purcell also expressed her disappointment with Trimmer’s opposition to the proposal.

“I am disappointed that Mr. Trimmer is taking an oppositional stance on these complex but necessary plans,” she wrote. “Learning is a process that requires patience. Voters in our three towns will make the ultimate decision on May 7th about how we move forward to address the challenge of maintaining aging school buildings, including Richmond Elementary as it approaches its 90th year.”

The Richmond Community Alliance political action committee posted an open letter by RCA President Mark Reynolds in its Feb. 4 newsletter, asking Trimmer to thoroughly research the issue before asking the council to consider a resolution opposing the plan.

“There is plenty of time between now and May to gather information and arrive at a solution that will best support students from Richmond in a way that is fiscally responsible,” the letter reads. “The Town Council should be spending its time providing information to residents, rather than telling them how to vote. Remember that you represent the town as a whole, and your personal opinion and self-interest does not outweigh the residents you serve.”

Reached Monday, Reynolds repeated a statement that he made at the Jan. 16 council meeting.

“These buildings are going to need to be replaced at some point,” he said. “You’re just kicking the can down the road, and say you get five to ten more years out of them before they really are in bad shape, it’s going to cost you more.”

 

The Canvassing Authority

 

The Richmond Democratic Town Committee has asked the council to reconsider the appointment, at the Jan. 16 council meeting, of Raymond Pouliot to the Canvassing Authority. The motion to appoint Pouliot was made by councilor Michael Colasante and approved by four council members with Samantha Wilcox casting the only opposing vote.

Committee Chair Chris Kona said Monday that he was encouraged that the council was willing to reconsider the appointment.

Kona explained that state law requires that the council President nominate members to the three-member Canvassing Authority.

“The President is supposed to nominate someone from the [voters] list and so, the fact that Councilor Colasante was the one who made the motion means that according to the law, it’s coming from the wrong direction and it reads as a way for Councilor Colasante to try to bully the council into picking a particular person,” he said.

The Committee is also asking why the council did not interview both candidates. The council briefly interviewed Pouliot, but Pamela Rohland, a Democrat, was not acknowledged.

“When other boards try to appoint someone, they interview all of the different candidates and in this case, we didn’t see all of the candidates interviewed,” Kona said. “Pamela Rohland was another candidate who was eligible for the position, but the council never considered her. They certainly had the opportunity to ask her to come and make a statement, as well as Mr. Pouliot, but they did not.”

Kona also challenged the assumption that the person filling a vacancy, in this case created by the resignation of Republican Tim Michaud, must be of the same political affiliation.

“There’s this myth that the person who fills that position needs to be of the same party as the one who was in it before, and, as long as the Canvassing Board has at least one Democrat, one Republican, then the third one can belong to either party,” he said. “In the case that we’re in, there is already one Democrat on the Canvassing Authority, there’s one Republican on the canvassing authority, so this position could be either one. … The council could have picked either candidate.”

 

Other Agenda Items

 

In other business, Town Administrator Karen Pinch will ask the council to approve the hiring of Gary Robar as the new Director of the Department of Public Works. If approved, Robar will replace Scott Barber, who has retired.

Pinch will also ask the council to approve Michael Rosso as the town’s new Electrical Inspector, replacing Jeffrey Vaillancourt, who was dismissed at a special Town Council meeting on Jan. 30.

The Vaillancourt Saga Ends With Dismissal

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

January 31st 2024

RICHMOND – At a special meeting Tuesday, members of the Town Council voted to terminate Electrical Inspector Jeffrey Vaillancourt. The council also voted to hire Christopher Zangary as the new Town Solicitor, replacing longtime solicitor Karen Ellsworth. Allan Fung was the only other applicant for the solicitor position.

 

Vaillancourt Fired

 

This was the third special meeting the council had held to discuss complaints about Jeffrey Vaillancourt, but this time it was the last, concluding with Vaillancourt’s dismissal, which took effect immediately.

Councilor Michael Colasante, who prompted a complaint to the Rhode Island Ethics Commission when he declined to recuse himself from previous discussions of Vaillancourt’s performance even though Vaillancourt was doing electrical work for him at the time, recused himself from Tuesday’s vote. Council President Mark Trimmer, Vice President Richard Nassaney and councilor Samantha Wilcox voted in favor of Vaillancourt’s termination, and councilor Helen Sheehan abstained.

 

The Complaints

 

The town has received numerous complaints about Vaillancourt’s conduct, which has been variously described as aggressive, rude, unethical and unprofessional. In addition, and of great concern to the council, was a growing perception that he might deter businesses from opening in Richmond.

The saga began last March when council member Michael Colasante, with support from council President Mark Trimmer and councilor Helen Sheehan, rejected the recommendation of then Town Planner Shaun Lacey to hire Michael Rosso and instead, at the next council meeting, voted to hire Jeffrey Vaillancourt, the owner of Amity Electric and a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for a council seat in 2022.

Town Administrator Karen Pinch has received complaints about Vaillancourt from the Washington County Fair and Pasquale Farms, as well as Twisted Pizza and other businesses. Administrators for the fair have banned Vaillancourt from the fairgrounds. The two most recent written complaints, one sent to Pinch in December and the second sent in January, echo previous complaints. The second complaint, which was confidential until it was revealed during the council meeting to have come from a representative of The Preserve, asked that Vaillancourt not go to that property. Several of the complaints also describe Vaillancourt as attempting to get additional work for his own company from the businesses he was inspecting, which would constitute an ethics violation.

Vaillancourt supporters, including Colasante, accused Pinch, Lacey and other town officials of being unfair to Vaillancourt. At the August 29 special council meeting, Colasante stated,

“Right off the bat, he didn’t like Mr. Vaillancourt, because it wasn’t his pick,” he said referring to Lacey. “It wasn’t his choice. It wasn’t who he wanted in that office. It’s not up to Mr. Lacey or any department head to say ‘this is my pick’. Again, the Town Council, all right? the town charter, hires and fires.”

Colasante has continued to push to remove hiring and firing authority from Pinch and transfer it to the council, but the Vaillancourt debacle, which lasted nearly a year, is not expected to bolster his case.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Vaillancourt repeated the accusation that he had not had the support from the Town Administrator.

“I feel that although I was hired by the Town Council to do this job, it was under protest by others,” he said. “It’s a fact.”

Pinch responded,

“Can I just make a statement for the record?” she asked Trimmer. “When that position came open, I encouraged Jeff to apply. I was not in the interviews, I was not the one that made the recommendation for another electrical inspector, so it’s not a personal thing for me. … I didn’t solicit any of these complaints. They all came to me. They all had a pattern, most importantly, that Jeff was trying to solicit business for himself. I feel like, every other time we’ve talked about it, I’m the bad guy. It’s not Jeff taking responsibility but the complainant’s the bad guy, I’m the bad guy, everyone’s the bad guy but the person who’s taking responsibility for his actions.”

The temperature in the council chamber rose again by several degrees, when Vaillancourt stated that he had recorded his supervisor, the town’s Building Official, Anthony Santilli, without Santilli’s knowledge.

“I don’t like people taping me,” an angry Santilli said from the audience.

“I wasn’t taping you,” Vaillancourt replied. “I was covering myself.”

Vaillancourt apologized, but he continued to defend his actions, saying he had felt “attacked.”

Some council members, including Nassaney, said that with Vaillancourt banned from several establishments, the town would need a second electrical inspector.

“We have to go out and hire another inspector… because a lot of business owners don’t feel comfortable with you being there,” he told Vaillancourt.

Trimmer said the bottom line, for the town, was that Vaillancourt’s reputation would not attract new businesses.

“We cannot use you at the largest event in town, we cannot use you at the two largest taxpayers in town, and new businesses – we’re desperate,” he said. “On the one hand, we’re saying we want economic development in this town, we want businesses to come in and help us defray the cost of schools and roads, and on the other hand, we’re driving them away with an inspector who they have asked not to come. We’ve reached a crossroads that I don’t think we can recover from.”

Reached Wednesday, Wilcox agreed that Vaillancourt had had to go.

“I’m sure that Mr. Vaillancourt is a great electrician, but the repeated complaints, consistent issues, really couldn’t be ignored anymore,” she said. “I’m really grateful for the people who were brave enough to come forward and I’m glad the council majority has proven to the residents, investors and business owners in Richmond that behavior like that is not acceptable.”

Trimmer, in an interview Wednesday, said,

“It was time. We tried to work with him. We have him many opportunities, and it just got to the point where the cost was too high. We would have had to hire another electrical inspector, and pay two.”

Michael Rosso, who has previously done electrical inspections for the town, will step in on a temporary basis as the town begins the process of hiring Vaillancourt’s replacement.

 

Council Chooses Zangary

 

The council discussed the two applicants for Town Solicitor, Allan Fung and Christopher Zangary, during an executive session before the council meeting.

It is not clear whether the discussion in executive session was contentious, but by the time the council members returned to open session, their vote to hire Zangary was unanimous.

Trimmer said Wednesday that he had invited Fung to apply for the position, but had changed his mind.

“I invited former Mayor Fung to apply for the job, but the more I evaluated it, the more I thought about it just realized that Zangary’s experience and the fact that attorney Cozzolino [the other Town Solicitor] felt comfortable with him and Karen [Pinch] felt comfortable with him – that’s what we want, we want a team that works together.”

A resident of North Kingstown, Zangary, a Republican, ran unsuccessfully for Town Council in 2022.  His law firm, which specializes in real estate and land use issues, is located in Warwick. Zangary will attend the next Town Council meeting, on Feb. 6.

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Richmond in the News

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Iva Lipton, “In the Easy Chair”

 

By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

January 27th 2024

Just about everyone in Richmond knows Iva Lipton, and recently, she was featured in the Jan. 20 edition of “In the Easy Chair” in The Westerly Sun. The interview was conducted by Nancy Burns-Fusaro and is re-printed here with permission.

A retired registered nurse, Lipton is the former Director of the Richmond Elder Affairs Commission. She remains engaged in community events and attends every Town Council meeting, unless she is on one of her trips to an exotic foreign country.

Lipton is also the former Director of the Richmond Elder Affairs Commission, and an artist, who was photographed for the article sitting next to an array of Christmas ornaments she made.

The story and photo can be found here:

https://www.thewesterlysun.com/lifestyle/in-the-easy-chair/in-the-easy-chair-with-iva-j-lipton/article_311e9610-b3ed-11ee-bbf5-a3fbfd48b3fb.html

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New Leadership for Richmond Democratic Town Committee

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

January 26th 2024

RICHMOND – The Richmond Democratic Town Committee has a new leader. Chris Kona took over as Chair this week, replacing Joseph Reddish.

A frequent speaker during the public forum segments of recent Town Council meetings, Kona served in the United States Navy and, after his discharge, began a civilian career as a warfare analyst at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Middletown.

Kona said the change in leadership was an orderly one.

 “We discussed it among the committee and sort of as a whole, the committee decided that this is a good shift and it’s not something, I think, that we went through a lot of motions for other than planning, to have the discussion about that in the first place,” he said.

Reddish, who said he had chaired the committee for “four or five years,” said he would remain involved with the committee and added that the change in leadership had been an amicable one.

“We transitioned, which is good,” he said. “I’m still part of the committee and so I’ll still be their conduit to the state capital and so on. The committee will do very well with Chris Kona.”

Reddish said he serves on the boards of several non - profit organizations, leaving him with little free time.

“I sit on five different non-profits and boards,” he said. “… so, I’ve got a lot on my plate. I just don’t have the bandwidth I used to have to be able to do everything I would like to do, perfectly.”

As for his political affiliation, Reddish said he would continue to support the Democrats.

“I’m still engaged fully, but I don’t have the bandwidth to do all the events and all that stuff that I used to be able to do, but I’ll still be a strong voice in the community as far as making sure we do everything the right way and have the right visibility, etcetera,” he said.

Kona and his family have lived in Richmond for ten years, and his two children attend school in the Chariho district.

Kona said he became more involved in town politics in 2022, when Jessica Purcell ran for a seat on the School Committee.

“I became engaged, initially, though some of the discussions a year ago,” he said. “It was really Jess Purcell’s campaign, her campaign to run for School Committee,  and then, about a year ago, when the Town Council had voted against following the procedure of the Chariho Act and to appoint someone else to the School Committee. At that point, I began to track town politics more closely and to look for opportunities where I might be able to help offer my services and be a volunteer to support the town.”

Chairing the committee, Kona, noted, would be a way for him to give more to his town.

“I think this is a good opportunity,” he said. “It presented itself very recently and I’m grateful. I think it makes for a good chance for me to help contribute to making Richmond a better town and making sure that the folks of Richmond are supported in a way that, I think, works with the kind of strengths I can offer.”

Committee Vice Chair Jessica Purcell thanked Reddish for his years of chairing the committee and welcomed Kona to his leadership role.

“The RDTC has voted unanimously for a new Chairperson,” she said in an emailed statement that was also posted on the committee’s Facebook page. “We thank Joe Reddish for his years of leadership and welcome Christopher Kona as our new Chair. Joe Reddish is a collaborative and inclusive leader who understands the need to ‘build a bigger table’ so all voices can be heard. Over the last couple of years, the RDTC has grown its membership as an active group of residents engaged in positive advocacy through volunteer service, town/school meetings, and community events. We support local government that is responsive to the needs of residents and not to ideological agendas or special interests. Joe has shown that a true leader must be a representative first and foremost, and the RDTC is grateful for his continued years of service on the committee and in our town. Joe will continue to be an active member with the RDTC and with many local nonprofits and state organizations. We welcome Chris Kona as our new chair, as he has proven to be an active and vocal leader regarding town and school matters of importance.”

 

So, What Now?

 

It is safe to say that Richmond is the most politically divided in recent memory.

“There’s certainly a lot of tension in the town,” Kona said. “I think it remains important that we find ways to make sure the folks in the town are taken care of and that we have government that’s supportive of the residents of Richmond, and so, I’m eager to see what the committee might be able to do to support that.”

 

With the election looming in November, Kona said the committee was mapping out the party’s local strategy.

“We’re still working through what we’ll do. I’m. not going to talk in depth about all our discussion points,” he said.  “We have upcoming events. I would urge folks to track our activities on the Richmond DTC website, where we post our upcoming fundraisers and community outreach events.”

Kona said he was expecting the upcoming election campaign to be a tough one, but he also noted that more residents were getting involved.

“I think the next year will certainly bring us a lot in terms of challenges,” he said. “I’ve been very excited to see how Richmond has been coalescing and I think that we’re starting to see a lot of commonality among the folks of Richmond, so I’m excited to see the next year starts to evolve as we begin to understand what the folks of Richmond are looking for and what they need and how we can make sure the government’s going to be able to support them for that.”

Johnson Honored by RI Attorney General

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

January 24th 2024

PROVIDENCE – Richmond Police Chief Elwood Johnson was recently inducted into the 2023 Rhode Island Criminal Justice Hall of Fame. The ceremony took place on Jan. 18 at the office of Attorney General, Peter F. Neronha.

“Chief Johnson is a shining example of what it means to put others first,” Neronha said Wednesday. “Chief Johnson honorably served the Rhode Island State Police, the Richmond Police Department, and led the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association as a well-respected leader with a deep and unwavering commitment to the criminal justice community. Moreover, through his work with Special Olympics Rhode Island, Chief Johnson has fiercely advocated for tolerance and acceptance for people with intellectual disabilities. We should all aspire to be more like Chief Johnson.”

 

Johnson, in his usual self-effacing way, recalled how he had learned of his induction from the Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police.

“I was very surprised and humbled,” he said. “I got a call a week before Christmas from [Colonel] Darnell Weaver. I asked him ‘are you sure you’ve got the right guy?’”

 

The inductees were invited to bring up to 10 guests to the ceremony. Johnson invited his parents.

“It was a nice opportunity for my family, particularly my parents,” he said. “It wasn’t so much what they said. It was having other people remark on their son. That they were witness to it was really nice.”

 

Johnson credited the people he works with and also, the entire Richmond community, for his award.

Richmond Town Council President Mark Trimmer said the community loves him right back.

“Chief Johnson is truly a one of a kind, and I mean that in a positive way,” he said. “His professionalism and his desire to portray the town’s police department in the best light is commendable. He does an amazing job. This has been a long time coming, and I congratulate him for a well-deserved honor.”

 

Johnson credits his sister, Jenny, who passed away in 1995, with inspiring his continued involvement in the Rhode Island Special Olympics. Johnson serves on the organization’s Executive Board and started the annual “Super Plunge” more than 10 years ago to raise money to help athletes participate in events hosted by Special Olympics Rhode Island.

Jenny was born with developmental disabilities, and lived to be 25.

“For 25 years, this person, who couldn’t speak, used sign language, was the best teacher I ever had,” he said. “She’s why I am involved with Special Olympics.”

He then added,

“It’s difficult to talk about my sister. I think about her every day.”

 

In addition to Johnson, six Rhode Islanders were inducted:

Roosevelt Benton

William J. Ferland

Robert Lauro

Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch

Federal District Court Judge Mary S. McElroy

Colonel Russel S. Serpa

Divisions Apparent at Omnibus Meeting

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

January 20th 2024

RICHMOND – Members of the Chariho School Committee and Chariho administrators hosted the annual Omnibus Meeting Wednesday, and it was the longest in recent memory, lasting nearly three hours.

Attending were Town Council members from Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton Town Councils, as well as representatives of other committees. The purpose of the Omnibus Meeting is to present the school district’s new proposed budget, in this case, for Fiscal Year 2025. The meeting is a requirement of the Chariho Act, the state legislation that created the regional school district.

As a small group of residents looked on, town representatives asked questions about the budget, but they also had questions about a proposal for Chariho to participate in a state program that would replace the district’s aging elementary schools with new buildings. Some town officials have balked at the first of three school buildings options, involving a $150 million bond for the new schools, because they worry that residents, already in a surly mood over their property taxes, will see their taxes go even higher. The other options are to go out for a $30 million bond to repair and renovate the existing schools in what has been called the “warm, dry, safe” option, and finally, a capital “pay as you go” improvement and repair option, which would cost approximately $7 million. The state will reimburse 76% to 81% of the cost of building new schools. Districts that choose the “warm, safe and dry” or “pay as you go” options will receive 61% reimbursements.

 

The Pitch

 

Superintendent of Schools Gina Picard, who presented the school buildings proposal to the Richmond Town Council on Tuesday, presented it once again at Wednesday’s Omnibus meeting. Reached Thursday, she said the important thing for residents to understand is that regardless of the option they choose, the costs to the taxpayers will be the same.

“It’s going to cost the taxpayers the exact same amount of money, whether we just do basic, whether we just do new schools,” she said. “It’s going to be, annually, about $2.3 million … you’re going to look at a $2.3 million increase, regardless of the pass forward,” she said. “What people have to understand is, for $2 million, the outcomes that you could get are new schools, prioritize projects like the Richmond [school]bathroom project, the Charlestown [school] paving project, the Ashaway playground and paving project, the main campus, the plumbing in the elementary schools, or, the third option, if both of those bonds don’t pass, it would be like putting our facilities at risk and trying to do our best for emergencies only.”

 

School Committee Chair Catherine Giusti said Thursday that the discussion of school building options had been marred by misinformation.

“I think there are a lot of questions, and hopefully councilors, who wanted accurate information,” she said. “I think something that plays this entire process is fear mongering and inaccurate information and hopefully, some of that was dispelled last night.”

 

Richmond School Committee member Jessica Purcell said she believed the annual event was worthwhile, despite the political posturing.

“I think that it serves an important purpose of reminding all of us in positions of representation that we’re better when we work together,” she said. “Sometimes, the discussion may not have immediate consequences, but it puts ideas in people’s minds, it puts questions and concerns in people’s minds, and hopefully in the future, they can take those concerns and work together to improve them for all their constituents.”

 

The Proposed Budget

 

The proposed Fiscal Year 2025 Chariho budget, including debt service, is $58.4 million, an increase of 2.2%. The three towns’ contributions, after state aid, would be: Charlestown $12.7 million, a 1.5% increase, Richmond, $16.2 million, a 3.1% increase, and Hopkinton, $15.9 million, a 5.6% increase. As has often been stated, each town’s contribution to the school district is based on its student enrollment, with Charlestown having the fewest students in recent years.

 

Hopkinton Town Council President Michael Geary said he believed that the Chariho contributions should be equal for each of the towns.

“I think a third, a third and a third would be good for us,” he said.

Charlestown council Vice President Stephen Stokes appeared to agree.

“If we’re going to do it as a district, we’re getting three equal buildings of equal cost, … then it should be voted upon as a district and the chips will fall where they may,” he said. “And I personally do not disagree in the building, considering the cost, we’re getting equal buildings, I don’t particularly have a problem with the discussion of a third, a third, a third.  I don’t see a problem with us paying a fair share in certain aspects when we talk about things that are equally done, so I think there’s a conversation that we certainly can have there.”

Charlestown Town Council President Deborah Carney disagreed, and presented a list of her town’s payments for additional services, beyond what was required by the Chariho Act.

“Right now, we have approximately 24% of the students at Chariho,” she said. “We’re paying 9% more every year than we’re required to pay by the Act, but it was a concession made by Charlestown.”

 

The public hearing on the budget is on March 5 and the budget referendum will take place on April 9. Budget details, and the timeline, can be found on the Chariho website.

Council Hears Schools Proposal

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Council Hears Schools Proposal

 

By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

January 17th 2024

RICHMOND – Town Council members heard a presentation on options for Chariho schools at the Tuesday meeting. At an executive session that took place earlier, councilors considered the applicants for the Town Solicitor position.

 

Chariho

 

Several council members were skeptical of, and at times, hostile to a proposed plan presented by Chariho Superintendent of Schools Gina Picard and Mario Carreno, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Education’s School Building Authority, involving the construction of three new elementary schools to replace the district’s four elementary schools.

The issue is whether the town should go out to bond for up to $150 million for new schools and improvements to the main Chariho campus, or go out for a $30 million bond to repair and renovate the existing schools in what has been called the “warm, dry, safe” option. The third option is for capital “pay as you go” improvements and repairs, which would cost approximately $7 million.

Picard explained that RIDE requires all school districts to draft five-year capital improvement plans and as part of that process, consider the new construction option. The state, which must approve the capital improvement plans, favors “newer and fewer” schools, and will reimburse 76% to 81% of the cost. Districts that choose the warm, safe and dry or pay as you go options will receive 61% reimbursements.

“All districts must review the option of new construction when they draft their capital improvement plan,” Picard told the council. “During that review, we determined that maintaining our facilities would cost approximately $30 million over the next five years for our four elementary schools and the main campus, with the focus on ensuring our schools remain warm, safe and dry.”

Chariho administrators have been mulling capital improvement plans for decades.

“The district has been developing plans based on the needs of our aging elementary facilities [since] back in the ‘90s,” Picard said.

The question Richmond, Charlestown and Hopkinton residents must decide is whether to approve the bond for new schools, approve a smaller bond for improvements to existing schools, so simply continue to repair the existing buildings as necessary, two of which are nearly 90 years old.

“What I’m sharing with you,” Picard said, “is an opportunity for the three towns, and if that’s not what the voters want, that’s not what we’ll do. Often, we are asked, especially during budget season, to ensure that we provide cost effective approaches. I cannot, in good conscience, sit here and tell you that the best approach is to continue to maintain aging facilities when I know that we’ll be able to get a 76% reimbursement, minimum, up to 81 cents on the dollar, for just about the same, if less money to get three brand new schools out of that.”

There are other issues muddying the waters of the schools proposals. Hopkinton, which has two of the elementary schools, Hope Valley and Ashaway, has resisted giving up its second elementary school. In addition, Richmond residents, who have complained incessantly about the town’s tax rate, would likely balk at even a modest tax increase.

Councilor Helen Sheehan said,

“When I did the math, it looks as if we are 2,900 families in Richmond, and Richmond pays 37.5% of the [Chariho] bill. So that means the taxes per house will go up $297 per year for the next 20 years.”

Picard replied,

“Based on the taxes, you also have to take into account what the towns are going to do, so while I can’t predict the taxes, what I can tell you is, the dollars that you spend on each school is based on the residencies of where your students live, no different than when we get a CTC {career and technical] student from Westerly. They pay tuition coming into the high school. That’s how that works.”

Sheehan stated that if Chariho were a “truly regional” district, taxpayers in all three Chariho towns would pay the same.

“You are regional,” Picard said. “And when you think about it, you would also not just have to look at your local taxpayer dollars but you’d have to look at your state aid. Richmond gets more state aid than Charlestown, and Hopkinton, sometimes, gets more state aid than Richmond.”

Councilor Michael Colasante said he had met with North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi, who had confronted rising costs with school bonds there.

“I had a sit-down with Charles Lombardi, the North Providence Mayor,” Colasante said. “He’s a great businessman, I’m telling you. $75 million, then it went to $100 million, and then it went to $125 million, and that’s when Charlie, the Mayor, said ‘no, that’s it.’ Because the $125 million, these are his words, not mine, would have ballooned to a loan of $150 million, so what they ended up doing is paring it down to three schools, like what we’re trying to sell the district, he went and he pared it down to two schools and he went up to a second story, which is cheaper than going out.”

Picard, who is also a member of the North Providence School Committee, said Colasante was making incorrect statements about what had occurred there.

“Miss Picard, even in North Providence, they had to scale back,” he said. “Their tax base is much greater.”

Picard interjected,

“You’re saying it because of the elementary schools, which is not accurate,” she said. “To be clear, they added projects – the administration building. So, I can have this conversation, I’m going to say to you I know what’s happening in North Providence, and you’re twisting information, which is unfair.”

Council President Mark Trimmer listed some of the town’s pressing needs, which, he suggested, should be addressed before the town borrowed money for schools.

“We have a police department that is in an old credit union,” he said. “We have a volunteer fire department. And yet, we’re going to platinum - plate our school system. It just doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Several people spoke during the public forum, including some who said the schools were a critical investment, especially for a community where people chose to buy homes specifically because of the quality of the public schools.

“It’s an opportunity that we need to take advantage of, and to not take advantage of it would be fiscally irresponsible,” Mark Reynolds said.

School Committee member Jessica Purcell, who represents Richmond, said she was disappointed that there had been so much rhetoric and so few questions.

“Instead of questions, what I heard was a lot of commentary by two very talkative town councilors sharing their own experiences,” she said. “I’m a little bit disappointed in that sort of behavior. Too many of these meetings have just run off the rails because of stuff like that and it bothers me.”

Purcell said being part of a regional school district made it possible for the three small towns to offer more than one town could on its own.

“But, we’re not as regional as we should be, right?” she said. “Hopkinton has two elementary schools. That is an issue that comes up year after year and that is part of why we are having a discussion about how to move forward.”

Stephen Moffitt, a member of the Hopkinton Town Council, said he was also disappointed by the tone of the meeting.

“We get a say by electing School Committee members, who hire our superintendent to do her job,” he said. “So, I would think it would be best practice to allow her to communicate her job. Do I think due diligence needs to be done? We need to know what it costs? Absolutely. We’d be stupid not to. …I applaud Gina for doing her job, coming up here. It’s part of the process. She has to present it.”

Trimmer asked Moffitt if he had a family member who works for the Chariho School District, and Moffitt replied,

“I do, but I also have five children in the school district, and I’ve lived here almost all my life. I’ve been here since – I heard Mr. Colasante say 36 years, or 1992 - I  remember when Mr. Colasante was on the Town Council then. You were a Democrat, then, right?” he said to Colasante, who confirmed that he had been.

Councilor Samantha Wilcox asked Picard about the timeline for the process.

“At the February meeting, I think it’s the 14th, we have the final application for Stage II and again, State I is a facilities review, Stage II is based on the opportunity of what we would qualify for and the right funding formula,” Picard said. “The architect presents what we can do to maximize the funding available.”

Details of the plan and the application process can be found here.

 

In other business, the council approved the appointment of retiring Department of Public Works Director Scott Barber to the Economic Development Commission.

 

Town Solicitor

 

At the executive session before the regular council meeting, council members discussed the applicants for Town Solicitor.

Karen Ellsworth, who was not reappointed to the solicitor position, departs at the end of January. The town has received only two responses to a request for proposals to fill the position and the RFP closes on Friday.  The names of the applicants and the discussions themselves are not public information.

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Officials Monitoring Impacts of Beaver River Dam Breach

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

January 13th 2024

RICHMOND – The storms that brought torrential rain to Rhode Island have taken a toll, not only on roads and bridges, but also, on at least one dam. During a rainstorm before Christmas, strong water flow on the upper Beaver River broke through the 19th Century earthen dam on the Beaver River Preserve.

The Beaver River is a tributary of the Wood-Pawcatuck watershed, which, in 2019, received the federal “Wild and Scenic River” designation from the National Park Service. The Preserve and the dam are owned by The Nature Conservancy.

TNC spokesman Tim Mooney said it was not clear when the dam had failed.

“We don’t know exactly,” he said. “The rainstorm was on the 19th and the Preserve staff went down there on a routine visit. … We discovered it on the 21st.”

Mooney said TNC had been monitoring the dam.

“We’ve had our eye on this dam and what would be the pros and cons of removing it, ecologically,” he said. “It didn’t seem to be at imminent risk of failure, so to be honest, we were surprised to find that it had breached.”

Jim Turek, a restoration ecologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also serves as Chair of the Richmond Conservation Commission.

Turek said he had tried to learn more about the history of the dam before it failed, but he had not been able to find much information.

“I thought the dam was from the 1880s or so,” he said. “I’m going to try a little bit more research. It was a very old dam associated with a very old mill.

It was an earthen dam and it had a stone spillway which I would best describe as glacial boulders that were used to construct the spillway. That’s like stacking bowling balls, and it looked so funky, I always thought it was going to fall apart, to the point where you get on top there and move stuff around you could knock the thing over.”

 

Beaver Dams

 

Mooney said beavers have been active at the dam, adding material to the top of the dam itself and building additional dams downstream.

“Beavers had built on top of it and had also built a complex of dams, maybe 200 feet downstream,” he said. “That beaver dam was at least three feet tall. It was considerable, and some of that is still there. So, where the earthen dam breached cleanly through, the beaver material, the stone, the dirt, whatever, is washed downstream and the Beaver River now flows smoothly through it, and then a couple hundred feet downstream, it encounters this related complex of smaller, beaver-made dams which are intact, but not as tall as they used to be.”

 

No Rebuilding

 

“No one is going to come along and say ‘we’ve got a bunch of money for you to fix it,’” Turek said. “It would be foolish.”

Mooney added,

“That dam has been on the radar of conservationists. We have been asked from time to time would we consider removing it. There are benefits to open wetland habitats and there are benefits to free-flowing rivers as well. We had looked into it, but it was just too difficult and too expensive to bring machinery in there to remove it manually, so now, nature has taken care of it for us.”

 

Turek explained the steps that would be necessary to restore the flow of the river.

“We need to make sure that we clean up that outlet, because right now, that pile of boulders…a lot of it sits in the channel immediately downstream. I want to make sure that during lower flows, that channel reach is going to be passable, especially by brook trout,” he said. “We also want to make sure that the outlet to the pond is dynamically stable. I wouldn’t want to have a slough of material continue to go downstream. The best thing to do is just take some of those boulders and create a manmade riffle to support that being stabilized in a way.  The last thing we ought to do, someone should be monitoring, at least at a minimum, the changes that are going to occur in the plant community, because we know for a fact from many other dam removals, planned dam removals in particular, we always get a native plant community to come back quite rapidly, because there’s a seed bank in these sediments, and they sit there, and we know for a fact, from other dam removals that we have planned and implemented, that some of these seed banks are good and viable for over a century of being submerged.”

 

More Restoration Work to Come

 

The Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association has also been monitoring the dam. Executive Director Chris Fox, who supports a free-flowing upper Beaver River, described a broader, cold water stream restoration initiative that is currently underway. Participating organizations, in addition to the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association, are The Nature Conservancy and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, which have partnered with the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program. The program administers funding, in this case a $140,000 grant, from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, passed by the United States Congress in 2021.

The funds will be used to improve habitats for native fish species such as trout.

“What old, remnant dams, like the one that failed on Nature Conservancy’s property exist, that hold back water and have a negative impact on freshwater fishes’ habitat, creating a pond that gets really hot in the summertime that exceeds the temperature thresholds that species like brook trout can’t tolerate and cause them to have to leave that area of the river because of the water temperature,” Fox said.

And old dams aren’t the only structures impeding water flow and fish passage.

“There is a culvert on Hillsdale Road that is what’s called a perched culvert, which means the exit of the culvert is like a waterfall, so essentially, it blocks aquatic organisms’ passage through the culvert,” Fox said. “So, it’s not just looking at improving habitat for resident wildlife, it also looks at flood resiliency. Using that same culvert as an example, it’s grossly undersized. … That culvert was destroyed in the 2010 flood [and] was immediately rebuilt by the town exactly as it was designed so that they could get the road re-opened (Town officials have indicated that the culvert was replaced in 1999, not in 2010), however, as we’ve seen in these recent storm events in the last few weeks, the road on Hillsdale Road is overtopped several times and not simply because of the dam failure upstream, more because of the volume of water being conveyed in the Beaver River.”

Turek said his mission was to restore the river’s natural habitat.

“My goal in my life is to try to put streams and rivers back into free-flowing natural state to the best as possible and that’s a classic example, trying to restore that stream for native fishes like brook trout,” Turek said. “Because it is a cold water system, the Beaver River, it’s an important system and to try to put an impoundment with a dark bottom that warms up substantially in the warmer season just doesn’t make any sense for supporting cold water fish habitat in the location, or downstream of it. That’s the whole point of it, is trying to bring back an important resource which is a Wild and Scenic River designation.”

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Planning Board Grants Preserve Plan Extension

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

January 10th 2024

RICHMOND – At their Tuesday meeting, members of the Planning Board agreed to grant a one-year extension to the preliminary plan approval for Phase 2B of the ongoing development at The Preserve at Boulder Hills. The initial approval was issued on Jan. 11, 2022.

Two one-year extensions of preliminary plan approvals are permitted “for good cause,” under the town’s land development and subdivision regulations.

Appearing for the Preserve, owner and developer Paul Mihailides said he intended to move forward with plans to build residences, a medical office building, and a gas station, but he continued to press for tax relief.

“I was actually hoping before we started this new phase, to try to get some resolution to the taxes,” he said.

Board Chair Philip Damicis asked Mihailides about the work that would be taking place.

“Can you give us an idea of maybe what we could expect, possibly for some future development in there, what you have in mind? he asked. “It’s not specific to this phase, just overall.”

Milhailides responded,

“As it relates to this phase, everything that’s in the phase is going to be started quickly,” he said. “The townhouses will be started, the single - family homes will be started. The tiny homes will be started soon, like in the next 90 days.”

Mihailides added that his representatives had been working with Town Planner Talia Jalette on the plans for the medical office building and the gas station.

“That’s on the docket as well as some additional development in some of the other phases. One of the off-property parcels that we have, we’re going to be developing some homes as well,” he said.

 

Outstanding issues

 

The Preserve has not yet notified the town how it plans to satisfy the state’s inclusionary zoning requirement. Applicants are required to build, either on or off-site, three affordable housing units for every 20 market priced homes. The fee, In lieu of the affordable units, is $87,000 per unit.

In her memo to the board, submitted on 12-29-2003, Jalette stated,

To date, this Department has not received either:

  1. fees in-lieu of affordable housing for the three units, or

  2. documentation of three off-site affordable units.

 

Board Vice Chair Daniel Madnick asked Mihailides when he planned to pay the affordable housing fees, which currently total $261,000.

“If it’s just the $87,000 on the first six units, it’ll be paid… in the next two weeks,” Mihailides said, adding that the delay in fulfilling the requirement was related to the property tax rate

“It’s a function of, why would I pay $287,000, ‘$261,000,’ Madnick corrected, “if I’m not going to build because nobody’s going to buy them because the taxes on a condominium are $50,000 annually. I’m trying to work that out. That’s kind of been a challenge. The tax on a new home, I’m told, might be as much as $187,000.”

“To put it in perspective,” Damicis said jokingly, “that’s one or two nice shotguns.”

The Preserve has repeatedly challenged property tax assessments before the Board of Tax Assessment Review. Mihailides has also publicly stated that prospective buyers, most of whom are purchasing third or fourth vacation homes, would be deterred by the high property taxes. It should be noted, however, that homes at The Preserve have continued to sell, including a unit that fetched $10.9 million, the highest condominium price in Rhode Island in 2023.

 

 

Jalette also informed the board that the town had not received copies of several of the Department of Environmental Management approvals of the onsite waste water treatment, or septic systems. Mihailides said the permits had been sent to the town more than a year ago, but Jalette said the town was still missing the remaining permits.

“For this particular phase, when this submission came in, there were only three OWTS permits included as part of the submission. There are six OWTS systems out there, so I need the three additional permits,” she said.

 

The board approved the request for a one-year extension of the preliminary plan approval.

 

Zoning Amendments

 

After a brief discussion, members voted to send their proposed amendments to Title 2 of the Zoning Code of Ordinances to the Town Council. Drafted by Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth, the amendments are required in order to comply with changes to state laws.

 

Kingstown Road Development

 

The board granted a waiver which will allow the developer, Shoreline Properties Inc., to make some improvements to the exterior of a commercial structure that will be part of a mixed - use development at 102 Kingstown Road. The town prohibits work on a property while an application is before the Planning Board, however, the board agreed to grant a waiver to allow some work, such as the replacement of windows, exterior painting and re-siding and electrical system upgrades, to take place.

 

Punchbowl Trail

 

Engineer Patrick Freeman provided details of the pre-application for a proposed conservation development, “Perry Hill,” on Punchbowl Trail. The developer is the Punchbowl Trail Corporation of North Providence.

“The plan shows a conventional five-lot subdivision, where each parcel would consist of two acres,”

Freeman explained that the proposal involved a five-lot conservation development, with each lot consisting of 30,000 square feet. 

“Each of the five parcels, we’re proposing to develop a four-bedroom single family home which will be serviced by a private well and onsite wastewater treatment system,” he said.

The developer would designate 6.8 acres of the 11.21-acre parcel as open space. 

Damicis said it would be important to include a drainage component that would be in keeping with the rural character of the parcel.

“You’re going to have to be very careful how you design that, obviously,” he said. “We’d expect more of a rain garden with proper plantings. As long as we’re all on the same page that we’re not looking at a classic detention basin with, you know, riprap and fencing around it that’s going to be horrible to look at from that street. And the streetscape for Punchbowl is extremely rural in that area.”

Board members agreed to schedule a site walk of the property in the near future.

Richmond in the News

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

January 8th 2024

Preserve Condo fetches Highest Condo Price in 2023:

Providence Journal

 

The Preserve was the focus of a Jan. 3, 2024 story in the Providence Journal by reporter Wheeler Cowperthwaite, who wrote that a six-bedroom condominium Unit N4, at 87 Kingstown Road, had sold for $10.9 million, the highest condominium price in the state in 2023.

This news may not sit well with Richmond residents who are struggling to pay their property taxes, especially those who attended the June 6, 2023 Town Council meeting, during which four of the five council members approved a request from The Preserve that would allow the developer to ask the General Assembly to consider requests for tax stabilization and partial tax exemptions on the property.

Addressing the council, Preserve owner and developer Paul Mihailides raised eyebrows when he said the taxes on the luxury vacation homes on his property were too high for many buyers.

“It’s just too much for a third or fourth vacation home, somebody that’s here a few times a year, that is here because The Preserve offers so many intangible items,” he said.

(Citing her discomfort with many aspects of the bill, including its last-minute submission without her knowledge, Rep. Megan Cotter withdrew the proposed bill.)

The Preserve has challenged almost every property tax assessment, and settled an outstanding tax bill just hours before license renewal hearings in November, which required that the taxes be paid before the licenses would be renewed. A representative of The Preserve brought two checks to the Town Hall, the first, $37,069.45, for outstanding property taxes and a second check, for $11,543.36, to pay the town water bill.

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School Committee Votes to Censure Hopkinton Member

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

January 4th 2024

RICHMOND – At a special meeting on Wednesday, members of the Chariho School Committee voted by a margin of 7 to 4 to censure Hopkinton member Polly Hopkins for violating the rules of conduct for committee members. (The 12th member, Tyler Champlin of Hopkinton, was absent.)

Charlestown member Andrew McQuaide made the motion to censure Hopkins, first reading Hopkins’ Nov. 7 social media post about Chariho teacher Sandra Laub, that led to a complaint and then, the special meeting and the vote.

“Someone should check on Sandra Laub,” Hopkins wrote. “After her notorious role paying Golda Meir, she leapt onto the anti-racist bandwagon and whole-bodily supported the ARTF [the Anti Racist Task Force] at Chariho. She must be splitting in 2 between support of Israel and Hamas. Comrades should support comrades. Snort.”

The conduct violations concern provisions of the “Code of Basic Management Principles and Ethical Standards for School Committee Members”. Section 3F states that members’ concerns about district employees’ performance or character should be brought to Chariho Superintendent Gina Picard or committee Chair Catherine Giusti.

McQuaide elaborated on Sections 16 and 17 of the code.

“The Chariho School Committee accepts the obligation to operate the public schools in accordance with the fundamental principles and standards of school management, which principles include, but are not limited to, the following: 16: Avoid criticizing employees publicly, 17: Strive to promote harmonious working relations with all School Committee members and school staff that are based on mutual respect, fairness and openness,” he read.

The complaint to the School Committee was made by the teachers’ union representative, NEA Chariho President Vin Levcowich, who was contacted by Sandra Laub.

Levcowich presented his complaint to the committee at its previous meeting.

“I am here today to address an abhorrent and hateful public statement made by a member of this committee about a certified educator in this District,” he wrote. “School Committee member Polly Hopkins posted the following despicable comment to Facebook.”

Describing Hopkins’ words as “hateful,” Levcowich asked the committee to consider its code of ethics and “practice what they preach when one of their own clearly violates their principles and ethics.”

McQuaide said it appeared that Hopkins did not regret her post.

“I am not aware of any instance, since becoming aware of this, in which member Hopkins has shown any remorse for her statement,” he said.

Hopkins, in response, read a written statement.

“Thank you, Andrew,” she said. “This attempt at ridiculous political shenanigans is why parents are becoming increasingly enraged, and engaged, in our school district and its politics. An accusation has been made that I broke a rule. I did not. It is important that we address these issues through open dialogue, respectful debate and collaborative efforts rather than resorting to censuring fellow members.”

Several committee members condemned Hopkins’ post, and a few defended her right to free speech.

Richmond member Kathryn Colasante said she had not interpreted Hopkins’ post as hate speech.

“I do not look at this as being hateful towards the teacher,” she said. “I really think it was a political discussion. If I thought it was hateful towards any person, then I would agree with this censure.”

Hopkinton member Larry Phelps also opposed the censure.

“We have the right to speak online and social media,” he said. “It’s our right under God and the constitution. I’m not going to vote ‘yes’ to do this. It’s just a dog and pony show to me and you feel brave and strong that you did something tonight.”

Linda Lyall, of Charlestown, said she was waiting for an explanation from Hopkins as to why she had made the post.

“I don’t even know what, Polly, what was the purpose of this, and I don’t know if you want to answer that, because you never explained yourself in your comments and I guess you’re not sorry that you posted it,” she said.

 

The Public Comments

 

The first person to comment was the subject of Hopkins’ post, Chariho teacher Sandra Laub.

“It [the post] conflates my support for social justice causes with my supposed support for Hamas, a terrorist organization that calls for the slaughter of Jews and the destruction of Israel. That is a false and slanderous statement. It impugns my identity as a Jew, affects my standing in the community, my credibility as a teacher and therefore, my ability to do my job effectively,” she said.

Also condemning Hopkins’ post were Hopkinton Town Council member Stephen Moffit and Rep. Megan Cotter, who represents Exeter, Hopkinton and Richmond.

“I believe it is essential to maintain a respectful and inclusive environment that fosters growth and supports all individuals,” Moffit said. “Unfortunately, Ms. Hopkins’ actions have demonstrated a violation of principles, impacting students, staff members and members of our community.”

Cotter said,

“The member in question, using social media to target Chariho teachers and spread suspicion and lies, some comments are hidden in private Facebook groups while other comments are open for all. It is clear that the statement about Ms. Laub was carefully crafted and she [Hopkins] stands by what she says.”

Richmond Town Council member Michael Colasante said he supported civil discussions.

“I wasn’t sure if I was going to get up and say anything, but being kind of, like, right in the thick of this, people have asked me ‘what’s the difference in the 32-year gap from sitting on the council the first time to sitting 32 years later the second time’. What I have to say is that there is very little civility, there’s little decorum and there’s little class today.”

He was less than civil a few seconds later.

“Other people have a right to defend themselves,” he said. “Everybody does. It’s free speech and when somebody’s going after you, they really don’t understand the true intention of your heart, damn you!”

 

The Vote

 

Four committee members, Phelps, Patricia Pouliot, Kathryn Colasante and Hopkins voted against censure and the remaining seven members voted in favor, so McQuaide’s motion, which was seconded by Charlestown member Craig Louzon, passed.

Hopkins, who sat with her head down through most of the meeting, offered no apology, but maintained that her post had been submitted to a private group and had not, therefore, been public. She ended her comment with an account of a visit she had made to the site of the Dachau Nazi concentration camp.

“This is a political commentary on the current events,” she said. “It has nothing to do with religious. I’m sorry, Mrs. Laub. I didn’t know you were Jewish. I don’t look at people that way.”

 

Does the Censure Mean Anything?

 

Contacted Thursday, Guisti said the censure was symbolic, but meaningful.

“Really, all last night did was give the rest of the School Committee the opportunity to either say they agreed with Polly and what she said or to rebuke it as having crossed the line,” she said. “It does not take away any power from Polly, it does not take away the way she can interact as a School Committee member. I don’t think Polly took anything away from that meeting. It was just an opportunity for the rest of us to affirm, with the general public, that she went too far.”

Jessica Purcell, who represents Richmond on the committee, explained why she had supported the censure.

“I think it was up to us to govern ourselves and draw a line in the sand about what’s acceptable and what’s not,” she said. “In this case, a teacher felt targeted and they were looking for action, so they came to us. The censure doesn’t have much of an impact, and far as preventing anyone from doing anything, or taking any of their rights away, but it does set a standard that we uphold our rules of conduct.”

No Applicants for Town Solicitor Position

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January 3rd 2024

RICHMOND – With no applicants so far for the Town Solicitor position, Town Council members agreed at Tuesday’s meeting to extend the application deadline by two weeks, from Jan 5 to Jan. 19.

The current solicitor, Karen Ellsworth, who has served the town since 2005, withdrew her application for the renewal of her contract, which expires on Jan. 31.

Town Administrator Karen Pinch asked council members how they wished to proceed with the hiring process.

“I just want the council to discuss, and give me input on, how do you want to move forward with the hiring of a solicitor?” she said.” I did post an RFP but once those have come in, the [deadline] date is Friday.”

Pinch asked whether the council would prefer to discuss the applicants in executive session, and also be involved in the interviews.

Councilor Michael Colasante said he believed that the council should not simply receive a recommendation from the Town Administrator, but take a more active role,  choosing from a list of qualified candidates.

Quoting a section of the Home Rule Charter, Colasante said,

“The administrator shall submit a list of qualified candidates, not a recommendation, for department directors...I would like to see the administrator forward all the applicants and resumes and discuss setting up an interview process conducted by the Town Council members as a whole.”

Councilor Samantha Wilcox pointed out that the charter was referring to the hiring of department heads, and that the Town Solicitor is not a department head.

“Those quotes are regarding department heads,” she said. “Just for clarity, the Town Solicitor isn’t a department head, but an independent contractor.”

Wilcox added that the procedure would depend on the number of applications the town received.

Council President Mark Trimmer asked Pinch,

“Karen, how many do we have so far?”

“As of right now, there’s none,” Pinch said.

The council voted to extend the application deadline to Jan. 19.

 

Why No Applicants?

 

The reason for the dearth of Town Solicitor applicants depends on whom you ask.

“It might be our town’s reputation as being kind of volatile right now,” Trimmer said. “It wouldn’t be a nice place to work.”

Council Vice President Richard Nassaney agreed.

“I’m concerned that the optics of this council so far have been one where people don’t want to work together, so why is a solicitor going to run to the door to take the job? I think it’s going to be very difficult,” he said.

Wilcox was more optimistic, attributing the lack of applicants to the busy holiday season.

“It’s that time of year,” she said. “We posted the job mid-December and then we have a number of holidays at the end of the year, so it’s a frequent time to take vacations, frequent time to not really be looking for a job.”

But there’s another deadline looming. Ellsworth’s last day is Jan. 30 and without a single applicant, the town isn’t even close to finding a replacement.

“I was planning to give Karen Pinch a call today to try and figure out what our contingency was going to be,” Trimmer said.

 

EDC Resignations

 

The council voted without discussion, and without the customary “with regret,” to accept the resignations of Economic Development Commission President Bryan LeBeau and member Louise Dinsmore. In her six-page letter of resignation, Dinsmore focused her ire on Trimmer, Nassaney and Wilcox “who would rather play politics and refuse to prioritize economic development.”

Wilcox, who was singled out for additional criticism in Dinsmore’s letter, felt it necessary to submit a statement of her own, which she read at the council meeting.

Wilcox’s statement reads, in part,

“Ms. Dinsmore is entitled to her personal opinion about me and I’m not going to take that away from her but I would like to remind everyone that the EDC letter dated 11/10/2023 acknowledged the service and unwavering dedication of myself and Councilor Colasante. After the EDC presentation, I asked some questions via email and offered feedback that is available in their minutes. After the EDC meetings, I was thanked by multiple members for my input. For what it's worth, I attend all other commission and committee meetings periodically to check in, offer feedback and see if there is anything they need help with.”

There are now three vacancies on the commission.

 

Ethics Training

 

A Rhode Island Ethics Commission training session for council members and members of boards and commissions was scheduled for Jan. 30.

Colasante asked whether the training was voluntary and Town Clerk Erin Liesse replied,

“The Rhode Island Ethics reached out to me and highly suggested Richmond trainings,” she said.

 

Police Heroes Recognized

 

Two Richmond police officers were recognized by the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association at a ceremony on Dec. 12 for saving the life of a man whose vehicle had crashed into the water.

Chief of Police and association member, Elwood Johnson, told the council that Sergeant William Litterio and Patrolman Anthony Meola, had received the Distinguished Service Award for rescuing a man whose car had gone off the bridge and crashed, upside down, in the water at Horseshoe Falls. The accident occurred at about 1 a.m. on July 1, 2023.

Johnson described the harrowing conditions that night.

“It actually went roof first into the water,” he said. “The river was swollen and the current was raging. A lot of people, even if you have footing, chest deep, swept away, you just can’t regain and it was pitch black.”

Johnson continued his account of the two officers’ rescue of the driver, a 38-year-old man who, at first, did not want any help.

“They put themselves at risk. They had to navigate down this heavily vegetated embankment, work to get to the closest point they could to get to the victim in the river. As they’re trying to get him to cooperate with them and catch a line that they were going to throw, he didn’t want to be bothered.  He was somewhat despondent and wanted to be left in the river to die.

These officers encouraged him, ‘Listen, you matter. Just do what we tell you. We’re going to get you to safety.’

They threw a line. He caught it. They gave him instructions to tie it around his waist and when he took his first step toward them, he submerged, but because the line was on him, they were able to pull him in and with his assistance, got him to safety.”

Johnson said the quick actions by the two officers prevented other first responders from being exposed to the dangerous conditions.

“The ceremonies were really nice,” he said. “Their families were there to witness this. It was great work by those two officers.”

Looking Back on 2023

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

December 29th 2023

 

January

Nancy Hess

The year had barely begun when the Town Council voted at the Jan. 3 meeting to not reappoint Planning Board Vice Chair, Nancy Hess.

Hess, who works in the Rhode Island Division of Statewide Planning and was the town’s expert on land use, had served on the board for about 20 years and was also instrumental in drafting the comprehensive plan.

Over the objection of Planning Board Chair, Phil Damicis, three councilors, Helen Sheehan, Michael Colasante and council President Mark Trimmer,  voted against Hess’s reappointment. The reason given for the vote was Hess’s alleged belligerence with applicants. It is not clear which applicant complained, but council Vice President Richard Nassaney and councilor Samantha Wilcox were blindsided by the vote, especially Nassaney, who said he had witnessed an exchange between Hess and Trimmer that had concluded with Trimmer telling Hess that he would support her reappointment.

At the Jan. 10 Planning Board meeting, members named Hess board Chair. It was a symbolic, but significant gesture.

Damicis warned at the time that Hess’s departure at the end of January would be a significant loss to the town.

“I’m incredibly disappointed in this council for not reappointing her and I think this town is going to suffer because of that,” he said.

 

Jessica Purcell

January also marked the beginning of the Chariho School Committee debacle. With the resignation of school committee member, Gary Ligouri, Jessica Purcell, who had received the second-greatest number of votes in the November 2022 election, expected that she would be sworn in to replace him. Instead, there began a protracted legal battle between council members with Trimmer, Sheehan and Colasante appointing Clay Johnson to the vacant seat. The reason they citied was the Chariho Act, which, as state law, took precedence over the town’s Home Rule Charter and allowed the council to appoint a school committee member. Purcell supporters argued that the town’s Home Rule Charter stated that the seat should be filled by the next highest vote-getter.

The issue generated so much attention that the Jan. 17 council meeting was canceled because the crowd in the council chambers exceeded the legal limit.

At the rescheduled council meeting, held a couple of days later in the Chariho Middle School auditorium, Trimmer, Sheehan and Colasante ignored the angry shouts from the audience and voted to appoint Johnson. Nassaney and Wilcox voted against the Johnson appointment.

At a Chariho School Committee meeting on Jan 24, Purcell announced that she had hired an attorney and would take her case to the Rhode Island Supreme Court. Attorney Joseph Larisa was hired to represent Johnson and the town.

 

The Billboard

The political rhetoric ramped up at the end of the month with the appearance, on Jan. 28, of a billboard on Kingstown Road featuring Colasante, Sheehan and Trimmer, calling themselves the “Gang of Three,” in response to a letter to the editor by Democrat Kristen Chambers. The sign, paid for by the three council members, was removed a week later when it was determined that the councilors had neglected to apply for town permit to display it.

 

February

The “Tritown Coalition”

Colasante announced that he had met with representatives from Hopkinton and Charlestown to discuss education and unfunded state mandates.

“These other towns, like us, are in the same predicament, and it’s good to work with these towns without the bureaucratic red tape because again, keeping it local, local town councils working together, is stronger than any state organization that is given to us to try and coordinate us,” he told the council. “The other towns know of this and they were very excited to hear that we were getting this started.”

Contacted after Colasante’s announcement, neither Charlestown Town Council President Deborah Carney nor a senior Hopkinton administrator had heard anything about the coalition, or the meeting.

 

The Chariho Budget

At the Feb 7 School Committee meeting, newly-appointed member, Clay Johnson, voted against the proposed budget, because he said the school district’s cost per pupil was too high.

Chariho’s cost per pupil is the second-lowest of Rhode Island’s four regional school districts.

 

Daniel Ashworth

At the Feb. 21 Town Council meeting, Daniel Ashworth, a police officer who is also a firearms instructor at The Preserve, but did not disclose that connection at the time of his appointment, was named to the Planning Board with only Wilcox opposed. (Nassaney was absent.)

Ashworth has attended only a handful of Planning Board meetings since his appointment, and has had to recuse himself from discussions pertaining to The Preserve.

 

Wellness Director

Also at the Feb. 21 council meeting, Colasante and Sheehan tried, and failed, to eliminate the town’s newly-created Wellness Director position.

 

March

The Vaillancourt Saga Begins

At the March 7 meeting, held in the Chariho Middle School auditorium to accommodate the crowd, Colasante, supported by Trimmer and Sheehan, rejected Town Planner Shaun Lacey’s recommendation to hire Michael Rosso as the town’s electrical inspector. At the next council meeting, the three councilors voted to hire Jeffrey Vaillancourt, who had run as a Republican for a council seat in 2022.

 

The “Tri Town Coalition” a no-go

With acrimony reaching the point where council members were reluctant to even sit near Colasante, three of the five councilors, Trimmer, Nassaney and Wilcox, voted to decline an invitation to join the “Tri Town Coalition.”

 

April

Beaver River Solar

The month began with a major legal defeat for the town and a victory for a solar developer, GD Beaver River I LLC and William Stamp Jr.

The decision, by Rhode Island Superior Court Justice Sarah Taft-Carter, stated that the reasons for the Zoning Board’s denial of the application were “unsupported” and ordered the board to immediately issue a special use permit for the project.

Construction is currently underway on the solar energy project, with many residents remaining opposed to the commercial facility being permitted in the Beaver River Valley, which, in 2021, was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The town, and abutting property owner John Peixinho, have each petitioned the court for a “Writ of Certiorari,” which would ask the Supreme Court to review the lower court’s decision.

 

Supreme Court Arguments

On April 13, the Rhode Island Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Jessica Purcell, Clay Johnson School Committee case.

 

Chariho Budget Passes

On April 4, despite the efforts of the Chariho Forgotten Taxpayers and Clay Johnson urging voters to reject it, the $57 million Chariho schools budget passed by a wide margin.

 

The Roundabout

On April 28, preparation began for the construction of the roundabout at the intersection of Routes 112 and 138.

 

May

The Town Budget

In late May, days before the referendum on the town budget, another letter from Clay Johnson was sent to residents. This letter urged them to reject the spending plan.

 

Riverhead Expansion

Riverhead Building Supply announced a $20 million expansion of its facility on Kingstown Road.

 

June

The Town Budget Rejected

The proposed town budget was soundly defeated in a referendum on June 5. The vote was 271 in favor and 390 opposed.

The council voted, at the June 7 meeting, to approve the amendments that would make it possible for the town to continue to operate with the existing budget.

 

Tax Breaks for The Preserve

The council approved a request by The Preserve Sporting Club and Residences for enabling legislation that would make it possible for the developer to ask the General Assembly to consider requests for tax stabilization and partial tax exemptions on the property.

Preserve owner and developer Paul Mihailides annoyed some residents when, while addressing the council, he justified his request for tax cuts, saying the taxes on the luxury vacation homes on his property were too high for many buyers.

“It’s just too much for a third or fourth vacation home, somebody that’s here a few times a year, that is here because The Preserve offers so many intangible items,” he said.

The bill was hand delivered to the State House by a representative of The Preserve. It was pulled by State Rep. Megan Cotter, however, who said she could not answer questions from fellow lawmakers about the bill because she had not been told anything about it.

 

Vaillancourt - Again

The council also considered dismissing the new Electrical Inspector, Jeffrey Vaillancourt, following complaints about his behavior, but decided instead to extend his probationary period.

 

Lacey Resigns

Town Planner Shaun Lacey announced his resignation. His last day was July 28.

 

July

Purcell Wins

On July 18, the Supreme Court released its decision on the Chariho School Committee case, finding for Jessica Purcell. Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg was the lone dissenter. Clay Johnson was removed from the committee seat and Purcell took his place.

At a special meeting on July 21, Jessica Purcell was sworn in as a Richmond School Committee member.

 

New Planner

The council also voted at July 21 meeting, with Colasante opposed, to hire Talia Jalette as the new Town Planner.

 

Aquifer Protection

At a public hearing on July 18, the council, with Colasante and Sheehan opposed, approved amendments to the town’s Aquifer Protection Ordinance.

 

New Survey

Residents of Richmond, Hopkinton and Charlestown were asked to complete a survey on their priorities for capital improvements to the four Chariho elementary schools.

 

August

Colasante and taxes

Colasante continued to argue that Richmond has the second-highest tax burden in the state.

 

Larisa’s Legal Services Bill

The town paid the $22,240 bill, submitted by attorney Joseph Larisa, who was unsuccessful in his defense of the town and Clay Johnson in the Jessica Purcell Chariho School Committee case.

 

The Fair

On Aug. 19, so many people converged on the Washington County Fair that day that organizers had to stop selling tickets to allow the traffic gridlock to clear.

 

Vaillancourt – Again

There were more complaints about the behavior of the town’s Electrical Inspector, Jeffrey Vaillancourt, this time from representatives of the Washington County Fair. He continues to serve as the town’s Electrical Inspector.

 

September

New Legislation

The council began grappling with changes resulting from eight new land use bills passed by the state legislature. Cities and towns must be in compliance with the new laws by Jan. 1 2024. 

 

Cannabis

The Town Council approved zoning amendments to allow retail cannabis sales.

The council also voted to partner with Hopkinton on a new community center.

 

RCA

A new political action committee, the Richmond Community Alliance, published its first newsletter.

 

Motocross

The Town Council approved amendments to the zoning and comprehensive plan to allow a motocross track on a property on Buttonwoods Road owned by Jordan Carlson.

 

October

Scott Barber

Scott Barber, who served for more than 24 years as the Director of Public Works, announced at the Oct. 3 council meeting that he would be retiring on Feb. 1.

 

The Generator

During that Town Council meeting, Colasante proposed that the town, which had already gone out to bid for an emergency generator for the Town Hall and had chosen the winning company, consider a different company that had not participated in the bidding process.

Several people, including two council members, said they found Colasante’s proposal disturbing and warned that re-opening the bidding after a company had been selected might expose the town to legal action. With Colasante opposed, the council voted to award the generator contract to the winning bidder, Calson Corporation.

 

Colasante Goes After Wilcox

During the Oct. 17 Town Council meeting, Colasante verbally attacked councilor Samantha Wilcox. Colasante’s refusal to relinquish the floor necessitated an intervention by Police Chief Elwood Johnson.

 

November

Colasante contacted the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office and the ACLU regarding the role of the police in preventing him from speaking at the Oct. 17 meeting.

Richmond’s new dog park opened.

 

December

The EDC

At the Dec. 11 meeting of the Economic Development Commission, four of the six commission members resigned, citing frustration with, and a lack of cooperation from the Town Council.

When the meeting adjourned, Colasante launched a verbal attack on one of the two remaining members, Pete Burton. Burton later said that he did not know the motive for Colasante’s attack.

 

Ethics Complaints

The Rhode Island Ethics Commission voted to investigate three ethics complaints, two against Colasante and one against Nassaney.

 

Ellsworth to Depart

At the Dec. 20 council meeting, Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth, who has provided legal services to the town since 2005, withdrew her request for reappointment. Ellsworth ran afoul of House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi for remarks she made about the state’s new land use bills. She had also lost the support of the majority of Town Council members.

 

A few words from the Town Council President…

BRVCA asked Mark Trimmer to comment on the past year’s council activities.

“Disappointingly divisive. That’s how I would describe it in two words,” he said. “Mike [Colasante] and a few of his followers seem to be just trying to make sure that if their kind of progress is not made, then no progress gets made at all.”

Trimmer also suggested that Colasante’s behavior had contributed to the departures of valued town employees.

“This is why we can’t have nice things,” he said. “I would say that he contributed to driving two long term integral employees in our town out of our town. … It’s really just stood in the way of doing what’s best for the town. It’s as though ‘you play the game my way, or we won’t let you play at all.’”

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Search for Solicitor Begins

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

December 20th 2023

RICHMOND – The last Town Council meeting of the year was not overly long and did not include any major squabbles between council members. There were, however, some disagreements.

 

Solicitor Leaving

 

Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth, who has served the town since 2005, has not enjoyed the unanimous support of the council in recent years and this year, with councilor Samantha Wilcox opposed to her reappointment, and councilors Helen Sheehan and Michael Colasante also opposed, it was clear that Ellsworth no longer had the support of a council majority.

In a letter dated Dec. 7, 2023, Ellsworth withdrew her request for reappointment when her term expires on Jan. 31, 2024.

The position was posted on the town’s website on Dec. 14.

 

Economic Development Commission

 

Council members devoted considerable time to discussing the beleaguered Economic Development Commission and the resignations last week of four of its six members.

The only EDC member to have submitted his resignation in writing is B. Joseph Reddish. The council, with Sheehan and Colasante opposed, voted to send letters to EDC members, Bryan LeBeau, Louise Dinsmore, and Joan Kent, asking them to submit their resignations in writing.

Commission Clerk David Woodmansee and member Pete Burton did not resign, but Burton was loudly scolded after the Dec. 11 meeting in the council chambers, by Colasante.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, however, Colasante took a very different tone when councilors discussed the members who had resigned.

“Guys, it’s the holidays right now,” he said. “Let’s give them a break. Let’s show a little bit of Christianity here, all right? For this time of year.”

Trimmer, himself a Christian, was incensed.

“Honestly, that’s probably the angriest I’ve ever been at a Town Council meeting,” he said Wednesday. “When Colasante said ‘let’s be Christian and send out the olive branch.’ He’s the guy who was berating somebody.”

Citing a lack of progress by the current and previous EDCs, Trimmer proposed replacing the commission with a Chamber of Commerce that would include representatives from local businesses. Trimmer’s idea will be discussed at future council meetings.

 

Chariho Schools

 

Council members said they needed more information about discussions currently taking place regarding the possible consolidation of some Chariho schools and the construction of a new school.

Trimmer said Wednesday that he understood that some of the district’s school buildings were very old and might not warrant further investment, but he repeated his concern that the taxpayers might end up footing the bill for the latest state mandate, which encourages school districts to have “newer and fewer” school buildings.

“I’m trying to be open-minded about it, reasonable about it,” he said. “To me, everyone that says they’re against funding new schools is accused of being anti-child anti-student, and everyone who’s for building the new schools is accused of being frivolous and irresponsible with their money. It would be nice if we could get everybody to stop pointing fingers and calling names, and just try to work out a solution.”

Trimmer said he planned to attend the community vision meeting on Jan. 8 at 6 p.m. in the high school library. The public will have an opportunity to ask questions about the Chariho budget as well as school consolidation.

 

The Road Bond

 

Richmond voters, in 2022, approved a bond authorizing the town to borrow up to $2.5 million for road work. Colasante proposed reducing the amount borrowed by $410,800, which is the amount of a state municipal road grant.

Colasante said his intent was to try to save taxpayers money.

“As far as I’m concerned, that total bond should include the principal and interest for that, so $2.5 million should include the interest,” he said. “People did not vote to approve a $2.85 million bond.”

Finance Director Laura Kenyon said she had prepared a memo, included in the meeting packet, that spelled out the road projects and the sources of funding.

“You have the information I have sent a memo with the schedules, so you have the information,” she said. “We are very close to what we are talking about through that memo and schedules. A lot of issues have been raised. The first one that comes to mind is the fact of the approval of a 2.5 bond. It is not customary to say ‘including interest’ when you’re approving a bond.”

Council President Mark Trimmer said the town’s roads were in desperate need of repair, noting that residents often complained to him about them.

Councilor Samantha Wilcox reminded councilors that the road bond had already been discussed.

Colasante proposed removing one of the roads from the list and having the town pay for that work and Sheehan said the town’s Department of Public Works had paved roads in the past and could pave more.

With Sheehan and Colasante opposed, the council approved a motion to borrow up to $2.5 million for road work.

 

The Rhode Island 250th Commission

 

Deputy Secretary of State Rob Rock presented information on plans for celebrating the state’s 250th anniversary and invited the town to participate.

“One of the other things the commission was tasked with is working with other organizations to commemorate the 250th anniversary, which is going to take place in 2026, and one of the commission members had an idea of going to all 39 cities and towns and asking that they put together a local 250th committee to help commemorate the anniversary in their city and town,” he said. “We’d like to invite the town in some way, shape or form, to create a local committee. We have gone to 26 other councils so far, and so far, 26 councils have agreed, in some way, to either establish a new committee or take an existing committee and put this task on them.”

State funding will be available to assist the towns with their participation.

Rock’s pitch received an enthusiastic response from the council.

“We should start a committee of some sort, so we can partner with the state and be a part of it,” Wilcox said. “I could speak with the President of the historical society.”

Trimmer added,

“I think it would be great to have a committee that would include the EDC, the Town Hall, [Town Administrator] Karen [Pinch] and so on, the Town Council.

Sheehan suggested inviting students to take part.

“The schools, too, can do all kinds of writing projects. The kids would probably find it very interesting to learn about their ancestors,” she said.

The formation of a committee will be added to the agenda of the next council meeting.

 

Stop Signs and Small Business Grants

 

In a public hearing, the council approved a zoning ordinance amendment to allow the installation of a new stop sign on Hillsdale Road at Tug Hollow Road and Bell Schoolhouse Road.

 

Pinch announced that several local businesses had been

proposed as recipients of $5,000 small business grants.

The council approved seven awards of $5,000 each to: Barbara’s Beauty Shop, Mae Lumen Salon, Celebrated, Mama Earth, Navigators Coffee/High Grounds, Pasquale Farms Garden Center and the Bronson Family Farm.

More Ethics Complaints

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

December 19th 2023

The Rhode Island Ethics Commission voted on Dec. 12 to open an investigation following a complaint filed by Town Council Vice President Richard Nassaney against councilor Michael Colasante.

The complaint alleges that Colasante had a business relationship with D’Ambra Construction and Richmond Sand & Stone, but did not recuse himself from votes to award contracts for paving North Road and Tug Hollow Road. In both cases, Colasante made motions to award the contracts to D’Ambra and then voted.

The complaint describes a business relationship between Colasante and the two companies, in which those companies did work at Colasante’s Buttonwoods Sawmill.

The council voted to award the North Road contract on Aug. 15 and on Sept. 8, equipment from both companies was observed doing work at the sawmill property.

On Oct. 13, equipment from D’Ambra Construction and Richmond Sand & Stone was again seen working on Colasante’s sawmill property. At the Oct. 17 council meeting, Colasante made a motion and voted in favor of granting the Tug Hollow contract to D’Ambra Construction.

Nassaney explained,

“It was the simple fact that he had at the time a relationship with D’Ambra Construction. There’s photos and videos of D’Ambra Construction equipment running on his property after he approved the bid for D’Ambra Construction to do the North Road and the Tug Hollow Road projects for the town.”

The vote to award the two paving contracts was unanimous, so Colasante’s recusal would not have changed the final outcome.

“If he would have recused, because it would not have affected the vote in any way, I wouldn’t have said ‘boo’,” Nassaney added. “He, whether knowingly or not, had a relationship with D’Ambra Construction. You just have to recuse from anything that has to do with the town.”

In his response to the complaint, Colasante said he had been doing business with Richmond Sand & Stone, not D’Ambra Construction. However, in photographs of Colasante’s sawmill property, the name “D’Ambra” is clearly visible on the earth-moving equipment.

In addition, state documents show that D’Ambra is the Registered Agent for both companies.

The Ethics Commission has 180 days to complete its investigation.

 

The Second Complaint

 

A second complaint against Colasante, filed by council President Mark Trimmer, is also under investigation. The complaint pertains to Colasante’s involvement in council decisions regarding Electrical Inspector Jeffrey Vaillancourt, who, the complaint alleges, was also doing work for Colasante at the time.

 

A Complaint Against Nassaney

 

The Ethics Commission is also investigating a third complaint, filed by former council President Nell Carpenter, pertaining to Richard Nassaney’s business relationship with Pasquale Farms, which was selling Nassaney’s hot sauce.

In an executive session on June 6, 2023, council members discussed the job performance of Electrical Inspector Jeffrey Vaillancourt and a complaint made to the town by Pasquale Farms regarding Vaillancourt’s behavior.

Nassaney recused himself from the discussion, because his “Rich’s Sweet Heat” sauce is sold at Pasquale Farms, but Carpenter stated that Nassaney still participated in the executive session, and in the open session that resumed after, and that Nassaney had also voted to take disciplinary action against Vaillancourt.

(It is not clear how Carpenter knew the details of the executive session discussion, since the minutes are sealed and she is not a council member.)

Nassaney said he could not comment on the ongoing investigation of Carpenter’s complaint.

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EDC Members Resign

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

December 15th 2023

RICHMOND – Most of the members of the Economic Development Commission, including its president, resigned at Monday’s EDC meeting, citing frustration with the Town Council.

As of this writing, the only member to submit his resignation in writing is commission Vice Chair, B. Joseph Reddish.

“I don’t feel that the Town Council is focused on wanting to support the EDC, based on their actions and comments that have been made by council members,” Reddish said Thursday. “I think we all, in our minds, were fed up and it came to culmination.”

In addition to Reddish, EDC Chairman Bryan LeBeau, and members Louise Dinsmore and Joan Kent resigned, leaving Commission Clerk David Woodmansee and member Peter Burton.

Town Council President Mark Trimmer said the members who resigned were breaking the oaths they had taken to serve the town.

“They took an oath to serve the town,” he said. “They did not keep their oath to serve the town and they did not communicate with the Town Council, other than a rather insulting letter that they sent.”

Trimmer said LeBeau had not responded to his telephone calls or emails, nor did he ever appear at council meetings.

“He didn’t return any of my phone calls or communications, emails, text messages and so on. I’ve been offering to meet with him since May. … I’ve spoken with him on the phone once, and I’ve had a brief text exchange with him, asking him if we could get together and talk, and he did not respond to me.”

Trimmer also noted that the commission had not responded to numerous invitations to attend Town Council meetings.

Going forward, he said the town would begin recruiting EDC members to replace those who had resigned.

“We look to fill the Economic Development Commission with people that will keep their oath and work for the benefit of the town,” he said.

Trimmer noted that he planned to invite Woodmansee to be a part of the ad hoc committee charged with attracting new businesses to the town.

Approved by the council in November, the committee will also include Trimmer, the Chair of the EDC, Town Planner Talia Jalette and Town Administrator Karen Pinch and would meet only when necessary.  

Councilor Samantha Wilcox, who attends commission meetings as an observer, said she had attempted to get the commission and the council to work together.

“I offered a workshop to get everyone on the same page and to work collaboratively, and instead, there’s four resignations, each person with their own reasons,” she said. “First, we need their official resignations, I believe,” she said. “From there, once we get new volunteers, I’d like for us to hold our workshop and get the new volunteers on the same page with council and move forward.”

Wilcox added that she was not anticipating any difficulties recruiting new commission members.

“I’m definitely confident we can get volunteers. I’ve reached out to a few people already, so we’ll see,” she said.

Trimmer added,

“At this point, I think the Town Council will need to assume the role of the EDC, and I think that I will ask David Woodmansee if he would be a representative on that ad hoc committee when we meet with potential investors in our town.

 

Colasante Attacks Burton

 

There was a perpexing incident after Monday’s EDC meeting in which council member Michael Colasante loudly berated the committee’s newest member, Peter Burton.

“Once the meeting adjourned, he walked from the back of council chambers up to the front where I was speaking with others and came right up to me and started bloviating, basically,” Burton said.

Asked what might have provoked the attack, Burton said he didn’t know.

“Well, I’m not exactly sure. He said that I glared at him. As usual, he wouldn’t give specifics, so I’m left to guess. …

He clearly didn’t want to have a rational discussion. That’s what was really obvious. He wanted to speak and I know what it’s like when you’re supposedly speaking with two people, where one person wants to do all the talking and interrupts whenever you try to interject to figure out what’s going on. That was it with him, basically. It’s pointless when somebody doesn’t want to have a rational conversation.”

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And Then There Were Two

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

December 13th 2023

MYSTIC, Conn. – A third beluga whale in the group of five imported from Ontario, Canada in 2021 has died at Mystic Aquarium. In an announcement Tuesday, the aquarium stated that nine-year-old Kharabali had begun showing signs of illness in November. She was moved to the aquarium’s intensive care area where she died on Monday.

“Kharabali is the third whale from Marineland to pass away after arriving at Mystic Aquarium,” the aquarium stated in the press release. “Havok, who passed in August of 2021, and Havana, who passed in February of 2022, both were found to have underlying incurable conditions which led to their deaths that were unable to be diagnosed while alive.”

A fourth whale of the five imported from Marineland also fell ill. The young female, “Jetta,” recovered and joined the general population.

 

Were the Whales Sick When They Left Canada?

 

The Animal Welfare Institute, (AWI) an advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., opposed the importation of the whales and raised questions regarding their health before they left the Canadian facility.

In fact, Mystic Aquarium requested, and received permission from the National Marine Fisheries Service, to substitute three of the whales, who were believed to be sick, with healthy belugas. All five whales imported by the aquarium were born in captivity.

In a press release responding to the death of Kharabali, Dr. Naomi Rose, AWI’s senior scientist in marine biology, stated,

“AWI is deeply saddened to learn of Kharabali’s death. From the beginning, we have opposed Mystic’s request to import these five belugas, citing legal, policy and welfare implications. These whales were supposed to be healthy prior to transport, but it is likely that all had pre-existing conditions.”

Rose said the whales, all of which showed signs of illness in Canada, should not have been subjected to the additional stress of transport to the United States.

“Unless and until they were fully healthy, they shouldn’t have been imported,” she said in a separate interview Monday. “It’s never wise to transport sick whales. It’s stressful enough for them when they’re healthy. When they’re dealing with some sort of health issues, it’s extremely risky to move them, and the only time you do it is when not moving them is going to kill them.”

The import permit was issued for eight research projects that the aquarium had proposed.

“One of those projects was disallowed, because, … they prohibited breeding them and one of those projects was about reproduction,” Rose said.

The remaining seven projects were approved, but the research was suspended when Havok died. Then, in Feb. 2022, a second whale, Havana, died.

“They had not been doing any research, because they were not allowed to,” Rose said. “They were told by National Marine Fisheries Service to suspend their research until this was resolved.  Now that Jetta has recovered, I think they were considering lifting the suspension, but now, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

 

Critical Violations

 

Following an inspection in Sept. 2021 by the United States Department of Agriculture, the federal agency responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, the Sea Research Foundation, the research arm of the Mystic Aquarium was cited for three “critical violations.”

The first was the lack of veterinary care for Havok, as he was dying and in obvious distress. The USDA report states that aquarium personnel observed Havok as he suffered but did not call in a veterinarian until he had died.

The second incident also involved Havok, who had poor eyesight, and injured himself when he swam into a closed gate that separates the aquarium’s pools.

The third critical violation pertained to the conditions of the pools, which, the USDA stated, were not adequately maintained, and also contributed to Havok’s injuries.

 

Problems at Marineland

 

Marineland has been the target, not only of animal welfare groups, but Canadian and Ontario government regulators as well, who have found the facility lacking on many levels and have even filed charges of animal cruelty.

The facility was also home to Kiska, an orca who, until she died last March, floated listlessly and alone in a small, dark tank.

The Mystic Aquarium press release about Kharabali includes effusive praise from Marineland.

"We cannot thank Mystic Aquarium enough,” Marineland wrote. “They provide exceptional care for beluga whales, and despite being amid the challenges of COVID-19, in May 2021, Mystic Aquarium took these five whales on for us to provide the world-class care and expertise they needed. This collaboration underscores the global community's shared responsibility for animal welfare. Marineland is deeply thankful for Mystic Aquarium's professionalism and tireless efforts in safeguarding the health and happiness of these beloved marine creatures."

It is questionable whether four of five whales becoming sick and three of them dying, qualifies as “world class care.” If the zoo and aquarium community is, as it claims, committed to animal welfare, Rose urged its members to work together to help improve conditions at Marineland.

“Our message has always been the same, consistent and persistent, that the industry is its brother’s keeper,” she said. “They should go up there with their expertise – they’ve got all the expertise – they know how to take care of these animals in captivity, they keep telling us, they have the veterinarians. They need to go up there themselves and help Marineland. It is not our responsibility, even. First of all, we don’t have the expertise, but even if we did, are we going to take our members’ money and spend it on something the industry should be doing? Certainly, we’ve been very consistent in what we’ve been asking the industry to do, but the industry’s been blowing us off.”

Last week, as Kharabali was dying in one of its tanks, the aquarium was basking in the glow of favorable publicity on the release of a seal that was rehabilitated at the facility.

Rose wishes aquariums would stick to helping seals.

“That is the only thing the public display industry does that I find any common ground with,” she said. “The fact that they rescue and rehabilitate animals is the only thing that I approve of.”

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Town Solicitor Re-Appointment in Doubt

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA                                         

December 7th 2023

RICHMOND – The re-appointment of Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth remains in doubt after Town Council members agreed at their Dec. 5 meeting to defer the discussion of her performance and re-appointment to the executive session that will follow the next council meeting, on Dec. 19.

Ellsworth’s contract will expire on Jan. 31, 2024. She has served the town since 2005, but her tenure in recent years has been less than secure, and the list of those opposing her appears to be growing.

 

Past Efforts to Oust Ellsworth

 

Former Town Council President Nell Carpenter tried several times to terminate Ellsworth, first in August 2021, then in October, and again in January, 2022.

Councilors Michael Colasante and Helen Sheehan opposed the renewal of Ellsworth’s 2023 contract, saying they needed more time to evaluate her performance. However, in the end, the council voted, with Colasante abstaining, to approve the contract.

 

This Time It’s Different

 

Ellsworth has never minced words when discussing the latest batch of land use bills to come out of the General Assembly, describing them as poorly drafted and confusing. But this time, it was House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi who learned of Ellsworth’s comments on the legislation and complained about her remarks to the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns.

Town Administrator Karen Pinch was then asked to contact the League’s Associate Director, Jordan Day. The specifics of that conversation have not been disclosed, but Ellsworth is reported to have made the offending comments at the Nov. 14 Planning Board meeting.

One of those comments can be found about an hour and a half into the meeting, where Ellsworth, referring to the new state legislation tells the Planning Board:

“My attitude is, if they make you do something stupid and you know it’s stupid, don’t do it, you know? I used to work up there. I know how they make sausage. They’re not right all the time. This is crazy. It’s crazy.”

Contacted Wednesday, both Pinch and Ellsworth declined to comment.

“I’m not going to comment, for the record, on anything, at this time,” Ellsworth said.

Council member, Samantha Wilcox, has had disagreements with Ellsworth in the past and is reported to support her ouster. One notable instance occurred last January, when Ellsworth stated that the Chariho Act superseded the Richmond Town Charter, opening the door for the Town Council to approve Clay Johnson for a vacant Chariho School Committee seat over second highest vote-getter, Jessica Purcell."

(Purcell took her case to the Rhode Island Supreme Court, which ruled in her favor. Purcell then replaced Johnson on the committee.)

Reached Wednesday, Wilcox said she did not feel that it would be appropriate to discuss Ellsworth’s job performance outside the executive session of the council.

“It’s a tough situation, because it’s job performance-related, that’s all,” she said.

However, Town Council President Mark Trimmer, who has supported Ellsworth, was more direct.

“Karen Ellsworth said what everyone else was thinking,” he said. “These land use laws and ordinances that are being pushed by the state are really, really bad news for the rural communities. I think their intent was to shift the burden of failed policies onto rural towns, and I’d say that on the record.”

 

Another Skirmish

 

A discussion involving Colasante, Planning Board Vice Chair Dan Madnick and later, council Vice President Richard Nassaney, became so contentious that Trimmer and Nassaney asked for, and received, a short recess.

Council members were planning a joint workshop with the Economic Development Commission to discuss the re-zoning of certain areas of town to attract businesses.

Madnick explained that the Planning Board had considered the zone change proposal.

“The Planning Board got together and talked about how to facilitate economic development,” he said. “One of the things we discussed is how do we implement zoning changes that could facilitate additional economic development – mixed use, commercial. And we looked at our zoning maps. … We just felt like it would be useful, with all these discussions of economic development, to try to push the town forward and find some areas that we could potentially re-zone.”

Then, unexpectedly, Colasante asked Madnick, a member of the newly-formed Richmond Community Alliance political action committee, about something the alliance had posted.

“There’s that Richmond Community Alliance, I guess,” he said. “They had five points that I guess they posted recently. Did you pen these?”

Madnick replied,

“Is it relevant to this conversation?”

“Yeah, because it mentions the EDC,” Colasante said.

“So what’s your point? “Madnick asked. “Since we’re talking in public, why don’t you read those five points? Make the point you want to make.”

Trimmer interjected.

“I’m going to call it here,” he said. “This is not an agenda item.”

Colasante persisted.

“I was just curious Dan… It’s right there in print,” he said.

Trimmer repeated that the alliance was not on the council agenda.

Nassaney then weighed in, telling Colasante,

“You want to build bridges, but you’re constantly throwing bombs. Unbelievable,” he said.

“You’ve got your soapbox, Richard,” Colasante fired back.

Nassaney responded by asking Trimmer if he could take a two-minute break, and the council went into a recess.

Asked Wednesday about that exchange, Nassaney said,

“He [Madnick] got up and defended himself with factual points and then, when he was finished, Colasante decided to passively-aggressively point out the Richmond Community Alliance and he wanted to find out who’s writing it, and instead of doing it openly and honestly as a fair question, he has to do it in this snide manner, and at that point, I just lashed out and made my statement. He just constantly attacks people he says he wants to work with.”

 

Other Business

 

The council approved a resolution, introduced by Trimmer, opposing the recently - revived proposal to bring high speed rail through southern Rhode Island towns.

“It’s going to be going through tribal lands and wetlands, electricity and water don’t mix,” he said. “It’s an enormous amount of money being spent on a railroad that no one rides and I don’t think anyone would ride.”

Trimmer said he wanted the town to draft a resolution opposing the project, and Ellsworth said one had already been drafted the last time the rail line threat was looming.

Trimmer said the resolution would need to be updated with the names of the current council members and also reflect the changes to the proposed plan.

Trimmer also noted,

“I had a constituent called up and said that the rail would literally go through the front door of his house.”

 

The council did not pass a resolution, introduced by Colasante, in support of Israel in the Israel-Hamas war.

Sheehan and Colasante voted in favor, but Trimmer, Nassaney and Wilcox abstained.

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Council Divided on Retail Cannabis

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

December 2nd 2023

RICHMOND – The pressing need for economic development is the subject of discussion and debate at most Town Council meetings. New businesses would ease the property tax burden, which has been described by many residents as unsustainable, but the town has struggled to attract commercial development.