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Friday, November 11, 2011

Deputy Dan wants more diligence on phantom open space

Wants a town posse to defend town from outlaw gardeners
By Will Collette

I never knew Charlestown was under threat from outlaw gardeners until I spent an hour and a half listening to the November 9 Joint Town Council-Conservation Commission meeting.

This meeting was the brain child of Town Council Vice-President Deputy Dan Slattery to examine Charlestown’s latest crisis: the mystery of what’s happening to the many pieces of town-owned property. Deputy Dan was responding to an out-pouring of public concern, consisting of remarks by Virginia Wooten who thinks something nasty is happening in the town woods.

This time, Deputy Dan was joined in concern over the use or abuse of town land by none other than Council member Lisa DiBello, whose perspective on the issue provided the biggest shock of the entire meeting, which I’ll tell you about in detail later in this article.

"My yes, Miss Virginia, I'll get right on it"
But first, let’s set the stage. Virginia Wooten, a member of the Steering Committee of the Charlestown Citizens Alliance, the organization that Dan Slattery ran until he was elected to the Council, voiced a fear that the town had not properly accounted for all the land it owns and was not being vigilant about its use.

Deputy Dan interpreted this as a groundswell of public demand for an investigation – and investigating is what Deputy Dan does best – just watch the fireworks about one of his recent “investigations” at next Monday’s Town Council meeting.

So Deputy Dan had the town staff compile an inventory of town property and convened this joint meeting with the Conservation Commission to deal with the crisis.

Be on the lookout for outlaw gardeners!
Here’s one of Deputy Dan’s biggest fears – and I swear I am not making this up. There may be outlaw gardeners encroaching on town land. According to Deputy Dan, there might be abutters to town property who are planting gardens or trees or shrubs that slide over onto town property.

And who knows where that might lead to? What’s next? Poppy fields? Marijuana? Wind turbines?

And Deputy Dan reported (I really am not making this up) that he heard from a guy who heard from a guy that there was this guy who didn’t like some trees on town property and he cut them down and used them for firewood. Call out the National Guard! Where the hell was the Charlestown Tree Warden? Or the Charlestown Tree Committee!

Somehow, everyone seemed to keep a straight face throughout this incredible discussion and stayed focused on some key facts. The town does own 54 properties (at least). Many of them are pretty well known and properly monitored, since they include Blue Shutters Beach, Charlestown Town Beach, Town Hall, Ninigret Park, South Farm, the old driving range, Richards Trail and so on. Others are maintained by other town departments – the list includes at least nine drains and drainage areas that are maintained by Public Works. There are traffic islands and triangles and small patches of land forfeited to the town as tax delinquent – two of them are properties formerly owned by Larry LeBlanc, famous for his Whalerock wind turbine project and his desire to sell the town another 81 acres of land.

Will Deputy Dan check all the town property?
An hour and a half of this. So what does Deputy Dan want to do? Why he wants whatever it is that Virginia Wooten wants – identify the land, monitor the land and bring any varmints who poach on our lands to justice.

To do that, the town will need to survey the properties and then mark them. “So how much will that cost?” asked Deputy Dan. Answer – maybe as much as $4000 or more per parcel. [Math quiz: 54 x $4,000 = ?]

Time’s up. That’s $216,000.

And here’s where Lisa DiBello came in and something really amazing happened.

Councilor DiBello is very, very concerned that the failure of the town to properly identify, survey, mark and SIGNPOST all of the town lands MIGHT lead to legal liability.

Again, I am not making this up.

Maybe she isn't going to sue the town after all
Council member Lisa DiBello is AFRAID somebody might have a slip-and-fall on a piece of town property. This is the same Lisa DiBello who will be filing major and costly litigation against the Town of Charlestown and a slew of present and former town officials over an alleged conspiracy against her. DiBello actually expressed the view that it's a small price to pay - over $200,000 to survey the land plus many tens of thousands more to put up signs every 50 feet along the property lines - to make sure we don’t have to file an insurance claim.

In the end, everyone was happy -
because the meeting was OVER!
Maybe we’re about to get some sort of news flash from Councilor DiBello. Perhaps she is about to announce that, out of an abundance of caution, “because she cares,” and because she is so concerned about the town’s potential liability from a slip-and-fall by a trespasser, she has decided that she will not sue Charlestown after all.

Nah. The impression I got as the time ran out on this bizarre meeting is that this is one crisis where the town will kick the can down the road. Sometime after the beginning of next year, the Conservation Commission will report back to the Town Council on which properties it thinks are vulnerable and need more attention.

Council President Tom Gentz signaled his enthusiasm for doing more on this issue by telling the Conservation Commission to “take your time.”