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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Town mum on Camp Davis land transfer to Narragansett Tribe

No comment on Friday meeting with RI Transportation Department
Camp Davis (orange wedge) currently bisects
Narragansett tribal lands (purple). Town owned lands are in yellow
By Will Collette

Last week, I reported that the state Department of Transportation was acquiring the old Camp Davis property off South County Trail from the Providence Boys and Girls Club. 

RIDOT intends to transfer ownership of that 105 acre parcel to the Narragansett Indian Tribe in a land swap/compensation deal that offsets RIDOT’s disturbance of an ancient, buried Narragansett village by the I-195 relocation project in Providence.

According to Rep. Donna Walsh, RIDOT would attach use restrictions to the land, but those restrictions had not been negotiated.

The Town of Charlestown had its first opportunity to officially hear about the plan at a meeting on Friday, May 24. The town delegation included Charlestown’s Special Counsel “Injun Joe” Larisa who is on a monthly retainer of $2,050 just to sit and wait for the opportunity to oppose anything that might be of benefit to the Narragansett Indian Tribe. Charlestown has paid Larisa more than $300,000 since 2007 to fight the Tribe.

He bills the town extra – at $130 an hour – when he actually has to do anything.

Secrecy over Charlestown's on-going war with the
Narragansett Tribe.
When I asked to see
the records showing what Joe Larisa did for
the $300,000 Charlestown paid him,
this is the way the town complied.
Later, after an appeal, they provided
uncensored records.
The Town has been secretive about Larisa’s activities and actually stonewalled a request from Progressive Charlestown for his billing records. After a struggle, they finally provided the records, but almost completely blacked out. 

Then after another struggle, the town finally complied with the state Access to Public Records Act and provided the uncensored billing statements.

As the great philosopher Yogi Berra put it, “it’s déjà vu all over again.” I have been told that the town will have no comment on what took place last Friday in its meeting with RIDOT over the Camp Davis land transfer. I was also told this is because the discussions could involve “potential litigation and/or legal strategies.”

It’s not surprising that Charlestown would try to block the land transfer, even if it comes with ironclad restrictions against that thing which Charlestown fears most (even more than wind turbines) – a casino or other gaming establishment.

Larisa even worked to thwart the Narragansetts from negotiating with Governor Lincoln Chafee to acquire the Twin River slot parlor in Lincoln, RI even though the Tribe’s success in acquiring Twin River would have permanently ended any possibility of an Indian Casino in Charlestown.
Narragansett Indian fighter and hired gun Joe Larisa

And despite the CCA Party propaganda, the case Rhode Island took all the way to the US Supreme Court on behalf of Charlestown, Carcieri v. Salazar, was about Charlestown’s efforts to block the Tribe from building a low-income senior citizens housing development, not the incredibly unlikely Indian casino.

SIDE NOTE: President Obama and many members of Congress have been trying to heal the damage caused by Carcieri v. Salazar which effectively stripped sovereignty from over 500 Indian tribes across the US (all so the CCA Party could block tribal housing for its elderly poor). 

To date, Congress has been unable to enact a “Carcieri Fix.” President Obama has included a Carcieri Fix in most of his budgets, and has done so again with the new budget he has submitted to Congress

While someone waves smelling salts under Planning Commissar Ruth Platner’s nose, please remind her when she revives that this Congress has not enacted any Budget, never mind the President’s budget, in years.

The CCA Party has not yet commented on the Camp Davis land swap. No doubt their spinmeisters are working overtime at trying to come up with a reason to oppose the deal that doesn’t sound too much like stone racism. Lots of luck on that.

As a matter of principle, I believe the Charlestown would benefit from two things – one is transparency about the deal. In the absent of transparency, rumors will control public perception and that usually doesn’t work very well, since people’s imaginations tend to conjure up much worse things than what is real.

Second, rather go into the process thinking litigation right from the jump, and rather than bring in Larisa, an inflammatory figure who is, at minimum, mistrusted and, at worst, despised by the Tribe, Charlestown should have gone to that May 24th meeting with a more open mind.

But I guess it’s just not on the CCA Party’s agenda to ever consider a time when we start treating the Narragansetts as neighbors rather than enemies. Chalk this up as one more missed opportunity.