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Monday, February 4, 2013

Where’s Virginia?

Plus … the Rise of Aqua-NIMBY and the Charlestown Ice Follies
Dan Slattery LUVS his Forums
By Will Collette

The latest in the series of now mostly irrelevant Citizens Forums – CCA Councilor Dan Slattery’s great and grand idea – went off last Monday. These are separate Town Council meetings dedicated to a topic that appears at every monthly Town Council meeting: “Public Comment for items not on the agenda.”

I had predicted the only participants in this month’s forum would be the usual array of Charlestown Citizens Alliance leaders and sycophants – the invisible, voiceless President of the CCA Virginia Wooten and the Chambers and Areglados.

I got two of three right.

At past Forums, Ms. Wooten attended without fail and presented Councilor Slattery with some major task to be accomplished. Last year, it was the need to find out where all of Charlestown’s various properties were located and to make sure the lands were being properly tended. That led to an hilarious escapade to track down the town’s “phantom properties.”

The investigation produced the startling revelation from Slattery that some town property owners had gardens that encroached on these otherwise unused town properties. That led to the wild idea that we needed to survey every property so we could stake them out and post “no trespass” signs. When the price tag for this foolishness approached an estimated half a million dollars, the idea was dropped, never to be heard again. Click here to relive all the excitement of the “Search for the Phantom Properties.”

Leo Mainelli doesn't want to see oyster farming from his
backyard. But he supports aquaculture - just not here.
Well, this time, Ms. Wooten was a no-show. Her niche was filled by the CCA’s other main officer, Treasurer Leo Mainelli. Mainelli did the obligatory paean of praise to the CCA Town Council members for their wisdom and enlightened leadership.

Then Mainelli got to the heart of why he stepped up to the podium. He wanted the Town Council to either stall, if not kill, the second of two aquaculture sites contained in a proposal currently being considered by the state for Quonochontaug Pond.

At the January 14 meeting, the Town Council majority resolved to oppose the other aquaculture site slated for the western end of the Pond in Westerly, but within sight of Shelter Harbor, where RI Statewide Coalition President Harry Staley lives. Harry helped give birth to the CCA, so heaven forbid something as crass as commercial shell-fishing should occur within his line of sight.

Well, if it’s good for Harry, it’s good for Leo, who admitted that, only coincidentally, the proposed eastern site happened to be within sight of his house.

Of course, Mainelli and the CCA proclaim they are all in favor of aquaculture – which is not only good for our economy, but also tremendously helps clean the ponds – they just don’t want it in their backyards. Certainly not within their field of vision. How about relocating the projects to the banks of the Blackstone River in Central Falls?

The Town Council made its January 14 decision to oppose the western aquaculture project following its usual practice of not consulting the appropriate town commission first. In fact, Town Council boss Tom Gentz, who was lapping up Leo Mainelli’s request to oppose the eastern project, off-handedly mentioned that the Coastal Pond Management Commission would be meeting on the subject tonight (February 4, 7:30 PM at the Police Station community room).

Areglado: wants to mobilize firefighters to ensure
he has safe pond ice for skating
The second Forum speaker was the inevitable Ron Areglado. Areglado ran and lost as a CCA candidate for Town Council. He was appointed on January 14 by the Town Council to fill a vacancy on the Chariho School Committee even though Areglado campaigned to get Charlestown to secede from Chariho[1].

Areglado wants the Town Council to get our volunteer firefighters to go out and check the thickness of the ice at all the ponds in town (not under state or federal jurisdiction). Areglado says he likes to skate on those ponds and play pond hockey.

Areglado and the CCA Council members discussed how the firefighters could then put up notices about how thick the ice is, though not signs saying the ice is safe, since that would expose the town to liability.

However, that’s the least of the problems with Areglado’s bright idea. For one simple matter, the Town Council has no jurisdiction over the Fire Districts so they have no authority to get our firefighters to do this.

Second, the firefighters signed up and trained to….uh….fight fires.

"You've reached the Charlestown Fire District...Sorry we can't come to
your fire right now...All available firefighters are out measuring
pond ice for Ron Areglado...Please leave a message."
Areglado did not specify which ponds he wanted checked or how often. Given the changeability of our weather, the ponds would have to be checked fairly often, maybe even daily. 

Even if the Fire Districts didn’t either roll on the floor laughing, or angrily blow off Areglado’s idea, where are they supposed to get all the personnel? And equipment.

Just because our firefighters will be the ones who get called to fish some idiot pond hockey player who falls through thin ice, that doesn’t mean the firefighters are equipped or appropriately trained to do pond measurement and monitoring. Even to save Ron Areglado.

Like many people Areglado had an idea that government could - and should - do more for him. But why didn’t he do some checking on the feasibility before wasting time on it in a public meeting?

Ironically, the CCA website prominently features a long-standing appeal from the Cross Mills Fire Department[2] asking people to sign up as firefighters. Apparently, getting people to volunteer for such demanding work in a town dominated by seasonal residents gets more difficult every year. People used to work in town and could break away when the fire call went out. 

Kenyon Mill still permits employees to respond to fire calls during work hours but, interestingly, the Town actively discourages it. This shortage of volunteers adds another barrier to Areglado’s scheme.

And why volunteer firefighters for ice patrol duty, and not town staff from Park and Recreation or Public Works? Could it be that Areglado figures that if town staff did it, it would cost, while the firefighters are free labor[3]?

So he can play pond hockey?

Next up was the “Voice of the CCA,” their favorite pundit Mike Chambers[4]. Chambers pitched yet another idea for our volunteer firefighters. Chambers wants “control devices” installed to stop traffic at our firehouses when the trucks are going out on a call.

That’s an interesting idea with one small problem, acknowledged by Chambers. The firehouses are on state roads[5] and any signal devices would have to be installed by the state. And the state is not inclined to do so. Plus, the Fire Districts aren’t the ones asking for this – it’s Mike Chambers, for whatever reason.

I will credit Mike for a couple of vaguely useful suggestions about checking on the quality of the town’s surface water, post-Hurricane Sandy, and on monitoring the volume of water in our groundwater aquifers. I’m certainly in favor of making sure we protect our water resources, but Chambers’ two proposals were lacking in details, such as a more fleshed out problem statement and some rough idea about what he has in mind and how much would it cost.

Regarding the post-Sandy surface water, why does he think inland water was affected? And as for the “aquifers,” does he mean there are discrete underground reservoirs or does he mean the underground streams that originate many miles away and flow through Charlestown on their way to the sea? I suppose he’ll explain all of this in one of his CCA columns. He does claim to have expertise on these subjects, having once worked for the US Geological Survey.  

Thankfully, the Citizens Forum segment of the January 28 meeting was brief so the Council could then move on to a much more interesting and important piece of business – talking to the organized Concerned Citizens of Bradford-Charlestown about what Charlestown can do to curb the environmental damage being done by the COPAR quarry.

Click here to watch and listen for yourself – and judge whether I am exaggerating or made anything up.


[1] The CCA believes that one of the criteria for appointment to a town position is that you pledge to work against the mission you sign on to uphold. Thus, if you want to be on the Affordable Housing Commission, you should oppose affordable housing. To be on the Planning Commission, you should oppose everything.

[2] And, adding irony to irony, these needed new volunteers would be working out of the Cross Mills firehouse that the CCA’s actual leader, Planning Commissar Ruth Platner, tried to block from being built.

[3] If he wants it done for cheap by volunteers, maybe Areglado should ask the Coastal Pond Management Commission to do it.

[4] You can read Mike’s frequent “Chamberpot” editorials on the CCA website. Recently, the CCA started adding the disclaimer that they don’t necessarily approve of what Chambers or anyone else posts on their website. They simply allow the items to be posted. On their official website.

But the CCA wants you to believe that the Charlestown Town Democratic Town Committee, which does not own or operate Progressive Charlestown or have anything whatsoever to do with its production, controls Progressive Charlestown’s content. Go figure.

[5] Cross Mills on Route 1A. Dunn’s Corner on Route 1. Charlestown Fire District’s firehouse on Route 2.