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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

UPDATED: Council OKs expanded camping for Rhythm & Roots

Crisis averted, but town fault lines widen
If Dan Slattery had his way, this would be the only approved entertainment
By Will Collette

On a 5 to 0 vote in its Special Meeting, the Town Council approved the one item on the agenda: the request from Rhythm and Roots promoter Chuck Wentworth for an added camping spaces for 200 people that would allow his staff and volunteers to stay together in one location.

Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz presented the Council with his recommendation that they approve the request based on his consultation with town department heads. Read his memo here.

During the course of the meeting, many residents voiced their opinions, pro and con. Generally, several  Arnolda neighborhood residents voiced their general opposition not only to the Festival but to many other human activities in the Park while most others supported R&R. However, the chair of the Arnolda Association said that she polled the members and the majority were in favor of the proposal.

Arnolda resident Dave Bailey, who also serves on the Budget Commission, spoke at great length about the cumulative “damage” caused by such activities as the events, the community garden, the ice rink, the now dismantled MET tower and on and on.

He asked the Council to not only deny the request but to consider repurposing the special fund for Ninigret activities, which is comprised of revenue generated by activities in the Park, and declare a moratorium on clearing buffer area and brush. He wants the Planning Commission to come up with a better sound ordinance. He said Ninigret Park should live by the rules as if it was a “private citizen.”

Except perhaps for a mime competition or silent meditation, it seems that most human activities would be banned in the Park if Bailey had his way.

May I suggest that Bailey and the other like-minded Arnolda residents should get together, pool their petty cash and make Charlestown an offer to BUY the Park. As Councilor George Tremblay (CCA) observed at the April 8 Council meeting, Ninigret Park belongs to all the citizens of Charlestown and not just Arnolda. Unless they make us the right offer.

ADDENDUM: Not all Arnolda residents agree: Arnolda Association chair Anita Baxter said she polled the members and the majority were generally in favor of Wentworth's proposal, though some were opposed. She said that she loved Rhythm and Roots and plans to attend this year. She said she enjoys the sounds wafting into her yard. 

Councilor Dan Slattery (CCA), who started this whole mess, spoke at great length about the decibel level of the music at the Festival. His comments, like most of Bailey’s, had nothing to do with the agenda topic – i.e. the merits of the request for additional camping spaces – but were more of a generalized attack on human activities at Ninigret Park. These off-the-subject remarks were tolerated by Council boss Tom Gentz (CCA).

Other residents who actually spoke directly to the agenda topic didn’t fare as well. Gentz cut several of them off when they didn't stay strictly to the topic, displaying a singular bias in favor of those who oppose human activity in the Park.

Former Town Councilor Gregg Avedisian noted that the town negotiated a uniform fee of $9000 for all the Ninigret events six years ago in tense negotiations with the several event promoters. That $9000 fee was supposed to be used to make improvements at Ninigret, but those improvements have been not done. This, by the way, is the special fund that Arnolda resident David Bailey wants repurposed for other unspecified uses, in direct violation of the agreement the town made with event promoters.

Charlestown has a Master Plan for Ninigret Park that the whole town
adopted in 2008 but which has been stalled, if not killed, by the CCA Party
When Councilor Tremblay asked Wentworth about what it costs Charlestown to stage Rhythm and Roots, Wentworth noted that in addition to bringing in everything the Festival needs himself, the festival also pays the town a fee plus the cost of all the police coverage, and has, on its own dime, made improvements at the Park.

Wentworth noted that with the cancellation of the Quonset Air Show, Rhythm and Roots is now South County’s biggest feature and brings in cash, business for local merchants and a hefty share for Charlestown of the tourism tax.

Councilor Lisa DiBello tried to refute part of Wentworth’s statement by noting that she took it upon herself to get a different cost opinion from Public Works Director Alan Arsenault for what it would take to prep the site.

As she has in the past, DiBello violated Council Rule 6.2 against Council members going around the Town Administrator. Gentz gently slapped her down for doing this in the past, but not for a long time.

But in the end, DiBello as well as Slattery voted with their colleagues to unanimously accept the Town Administrator’s recommendation.

I don’t know what game Councilors Slattery and DiBello were playing at or whether they have more mischief up their sleeves. Is this the end of this year’s drama over Ninigret Park or is there more in store? Does Lisa DiBello intend to continue her unseemly vendetta against anything and everything that Parks and Recreation tries to do? I think these are questions Slattery and DiBello should publicly address.