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Thursday, June 7, 2012

What do the Ninigret Park deeds REALLY say?

Next Monday night may be the last skirmish in the Battle for Ninigret Park
By Will Collette

At the June 11 Town Council meeting next Monday, we’re supposed to get a definitive legal opinion from Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero whether the Charlestown has been violating its “moral, ethical and legal obligations” in its management of the town’s Ninigret Park.

CCA’s Town Council Vice –President Deputy Dan Slattery and our federal overseer, Charlie Vandemoer have been pushing the idea that Charlestown needs to sign a new agreement that gives Vandemoer veto power over all new activities or uses by the town in Ninigret Park.

Charlie Vandemoer - the sixth member of the Charlestown
Town Council?
Slattery called this a “moral, ethical and legal obligation.” Vandemoer offered his opinion that despite the wording of the two deeds the town holds to the Park, he really should have the ability to veto any activity that he finds isn't “consistent with” the wildlife refuge that our tax dollars pay him to manage.

When the old Charlestown Naval Auxiliary Air Field (NAAF) was closed in 1974, it covered all of what is now the federal National Wildlife Refuge as well as the two parcels of land that comprise Charlestown’s Ninigret Park. Click here to read Frank Glista's recent history series on the NAAF.

One of the parcels, 172 acres worth, was conveyed to the town by the National Park Service on the condition that it should be used for passive recreation and as a buffer between the town’s municipal use of the remaining 55 acres and the wildlife refuge. That 55 acre parcel was bought outright by the town for $279,000 directly from the General Services Administration without any deed restrictions.

See for yourself. Click here to read the deed to the 55 acres. Click here to read the deed to the 172 acres. Compare the differences in the two.

One key distinction is that the deed to the 172-acre passive recreation buffer area contains the requirement that uses of that land shall be “not inconsistent with” the wildlife refuge. The deed to the 55-acres Charlestown bought directly contains no such restriction. By the way, the legal term "not inconsistent with" carries a very different meaning than the term Vandemoer and Slattery often use, "consistent with."

Our Fish and Wildlife Service federal overseer CharlieVandemoer offers his opinion that the restriction applies equally to both parcels, but that’s not what the regional National Parks Service Federal Lands to Parks Program manager Elyse LaForest says. And she has jurisdiction over the 172 acres, not Charlie Vandemoer.

On June 11, we’re supposed to hear our Town Solicitor’s opinion on what the deeds really say.

I hope that Solicitor Ruggiero will address the deeds for what they are, not what the Town Council majority would like them to be.

I think our Town Council majority needs to be reminded that they were elected by Charlestown voters and owe their first loyalty to them, not to our federal overseer. I think by now, Deputy Dan Slattery should have gotten used to the fact that he is no longer a Washington federal bureaucrat.

Boss Tom Gentz needs to overcome his fear of the feds. I think by now we all know that Charlie Vandemoer went way beyond the boundaries of what a federal wildlife refuge manager should be doing in town politics.

Nobody elected Charlie Vandemoer as Charlestown’s sixth Town Council member.

                      Charlie Vandemoer: Dupe or Duplicitous, Part 2