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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Charlestown’s federal overseer nixes Ninigret lights

If this was a STATE agency, what do you think Boss Gentz and Deputy Dan would do?

Charlestown's federal overseer, Charlie Vandemoer
By Will Collette

With the enthusiastic approval of the Charlestown Citizens Alliance, Charlestown’s federal overseer, Charlie Vandemoer of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, spiked state funding for specially designed, dark-sky-friendly sports lighting at Ninigret Park last January.

In a newly revealed letter you can read by clicking here, Vandemoer wrote to state DEM to ask DEM to take no action on the town’s grant application.

Vandemoer cited restrictions in the 1979 deed that transferred 237 acres out of the 600 acres of the old Ninigret Navy airfield to the town.

Deputy Dan Slattery
Vandemoer told DEM that the lights were “inconsistent with” the needs of the National Wildlife Refuge and thus constituted a violation of the covenants in the deed.

As Progressive Charlestown has reported, the CCA’s Town Council officers – Town Council Boss Tom Gentz and Council Vice-President Deputy Dan Slattery – have come out publicly in support of granting the Interior Department de facto control over Ninigret Park, breaking a 33-year tradition of federal laissez-faire toward town management of the facility and town autonomy.

Indeed, Town Boss Gentz declared unilaterally that based on Interior’s objections, there will be no sports lighting at Ninigret. Period. No discussion. No dissent. No vote. The feds speak. Boss Gentz speaks. And we will all obey.

Deputy Dan Slattery is also using the 1979 federal land conveyance to the town as the rationale for throwing away Charlestown’s 2008 Ninigret Park Master Plan and taking away Parks and Recreation jurisdiction over park activities and giving it to a yet-to-be-formed “Stakeholders Commission.”

The idea of adding a lot of lights to Ninigret Park – even if they are designed to be dark-sky friendly and used only on a limited basis – is an issue worthy of debate. Personally, I think the P&R proposal went overboard with the concept and, politically, it was handled awkwardly to say the least.

I don’t fault their good intentions and interest in making Ninigret Park more family-friendly – but from a political standpoint, the last thing our town leaders want to be is “family-friendly.”

But in spite of these reservations, far worse is the disgraceful leadership displayed by Gentz, Slattery, Platner and the CCA when they ceded Ninigret Park to what amounts to federal control.

While the CCA may think it’s a swell idea for the federals to assert dominion over the Park, as they indicated in their March 15 e-bleat to their supporters, I think it is poor leadership on the part of their elected minions (Gentz, Slattery and Platner) to simply yield control to the feds – and to impose a gag on town debate, dissent and democracy. 

For years, Platner and the CCA have bitterly opposed – and fought –efforts by the state to make Charlestown obey the law and meet the state's affordable housing mandate. Indeed, they have never been bashful about resisting state requirements. But in this instance, where the federal government is exercising its muscle over the town, the CCA is not only acquiescing, but going above and beyond.

Why the different reactions? In each instance, the CCA's response perfectly matches its agenda.