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Friday, September 20, 2013

We own Whalerock

Next question: For how long?
By Will Collette

The Westerly Sun reports that Charlestown and Whalerock developer James Barrows closed the deal for the town to buy the controversial property, site of the proposed wind turbine project, for $2.114 million. The deal was completed Wednesday afternoon.

According to Cynthia Drummond’s report in the Sun, the deal was closed even though the contingency on the deal, the issuance of complete and final approval for Barrows’ proposed carve-out of a two-house-lot subdivision, had not been completed.

Barrows’ had given the town the ultimatum that the deal had to go forward in August without a town vote, even though Town Council Boss Tom Gentz had promised voters would have the final say. 

Barrows also stipulated in the draft closing agenda document that the deal would not be consummated until he received all necessary approvals and permits to build two homes on approximately five acres carved out of the 81 acre site.

Clearly, Barrows was so eager to finish the deal that he decided to skip the part about getting the final approval for his subdivision.

We’ll have to see what the final closing documents say about what assurances Barrows received that he won’t get screwed on the subdivision deal since he no longer has any leverage to compel the town to grant the final approvals he needs.

Boss Gentz pushed the deal through on August 22nd, citing Barrows’ ultimatum, and withheld over 300 pages of documents giving the fine points of the deal until the following day.

At the August 22nd meeting, Gentz also introduced a new plan where Charlestown would effective give away this property to a non-profit group, preferably the Charlestown Land Trust.

For the past month, Gentz has had town lawyers and staff exploring ways to accomplish this give-away without having to put the question up for voter approval as required by Charlestown’s Home Rule Charter.

I’m glad the town has completed this transaction to buy the land. I have been pushing this deal since 2011 even though many of the hotter heads among the Whalerock opposition were dead set against making any deal with Whalerock’s developers, especially Larry LeBlanc.

However, it’s hard for me to imagine doing this basically good deal with more missteps than Boss Gentz has taken, including hiding key documents, breaking his promise to give voters the final say and now, trying to re-create the bad experience the town had last year during the scandal over Gentz’s plan to spend almost a million dollars in public funds to buy the Westerly YMCA’s abandoned camp ground.

We own the Whalerock land and that's a good thing. It is a good piece of land that could become a beautiful natural and historic site. Now that we have Whalerock behind us, let’s get used to that idea and come up with some positive and constructive town policies on the use of the land and on green energy.