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Sunday, January 22, 2017

“The first priority of any elected official is to the health, safety and welfare of its citizenry”

And not just if they have the time
By Frank Glista
This article originally appeared as a Westerly Sun Letter to the Editor

"Who has time to wade through that?" Photo by Will Collette
EDITOR'S NOTE: Senator Jack Reed announced on January 19 that the public comment period on the controversial Northeast Corridor rail plan will be extended for at least several weeks. The deadline was going to be January 31 but it will be later. We will provide the new deadline as soon as possible.

On Jan. 10, along with hundreds of other Charlestown citizens, I attended a meeting at the Charlestown Elementary School to hear comments about the proposed Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) proposal for the Northeast Corridor.

Listening to my fellow neighbors and some organizations speak about their potential personal loss of property, homes, farms and protected open space was heartbreaking, to say the least.

Our Charlestown Town Council, which is under the watchful eye of the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) Steering Committee, said they were caught “off guard” by the proposal. 

A CCA web site article “Christmas Surprise for Charlestown from Federal Railroad Administration” on Dec. 20, sets the tone for citizens to react to this proposal.

Web master Ruth Platner comments to this article, “We have all just found out about this including town government.”

On Dec. 25, in an article she wrote to FRA she states:
“No one in the town of Charlestown, the government or the citizens, knew of the plan to build new rail lines and structures in our town until the Charlestown Citizens Alliance released their first post on this issue on Dec. 18, 2016.” 
But is this true?

During the comment period of the meeting held at the Charlestown Elementary School, former Town Council President Tom Gentz spoke about his objection to this proposal. Much to the surprise of some in the audience he announced:
“On November 2015, I received a letter from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and a 12-page glossy marketing document.”
Did he say November 2015?

Holding a copy of the large completed document he continued:
“Who has time to wade through that.”

The second paragraph of the November 10, 2015 letter, that Gentz received and is referring to, states the following:
“A priority for the FRA is the participation of the many NEC stakeholders, and in particular, the affected communities, in this historic decision-making process. The selection of a long-term vision and investment program for the NEC will have far reaching effects on transportation in your community and the entire Northeastern U.S.
I would like to invite you to learn more about NEC FUTURE. The enclosed brochure provides an overview of NEC FUTURE. More information, including the full text of Tier 1 Draft EIS [Environmental Impact Statement], detailed descriptions of the Tier 1 Draft EIS Action Alternatives, and a full list of public hearing dates and locations, can be found on the website at www.necfuture.com.”
Yeah, but who has time to wade through that?

Who else knew about this and didn’t follow through? Did councilors Lee, Rhodes and Van Slyke, who were in office in 2015, each receive a copy of the letter but didn’t bother to investigate the Tier 1 Draft EIS either?

Once again, the lack of transparency from our CCA controlled government speaks volumes about their inability to run our town.

First they didn’t know about it, and then they did.

Not only have they wasted over a year of precious time that the citizens of Charlestown could have reacted to the FRA proposal, they have also caused extreme mental and physical stress to our neighbors.

The first priority of any elected official is to the health, safety and welfare of its citizenry. 

If Gentz and the three re-elected council members did nothing to alert the town of the FRA proposal, then they have neglected their sworn duty by having caused immeasurable harm to its citizens.