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Thursday, July 14, 2022

First anniversary of the Great CCA Charlestown Choo-choo Hoax

No evidence then. No evidence now.

By Will Collette

One year ago, on July 15, 2021, CCA leader and Charlestown Planning Commissar Ruth Platner announced “They’re Back!” and set off a round of panic across the northern half of Charlestown.

Who’s back? Well, according to Ruth, the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) plans to dig up the corpse of the dead and buried Amtrak Old Saybrook-Kenyon Bypass that would have cut a swath through eastern Connecticut and Charlestown. 

Ruth made her alarming declaration without a shred of evidence and, one year later, has still not produced one scintilla of evidence that there is such a plan.

One year. That ought to be enough time for even Ruthie to come up with some sort of proof even if she has to make it up as she has on so many other issues.

The Old Saybrook-Kenyon bypass was a 2017 proposal to straighten AMTRAK’s path and lay a modern rail-bed that could handle the fast Acela trains. The existing track between New Haven and Kingston Station is old and a stretch of it from New London to Westerly runs through coastal wetlands. 

That portion of the rail route will probably be destroyed either by the next big storm or steady sea level rise. Sadly, that also happens to be the most picturesque stretch of track along the entire Northeast Corridor.

The old Bypass plan was pretty much universally opposed in the areas most affected. It would have cut through the Mystic Aquarium and taken out lots of farms, protected nature areas and historic sites. It was a bad plan though at the time, it seemed very unlikely to ever be built, given it had no funding and no support from either the newly inaugurated Trump Administration or Republican-controlled Congress.

But nonetheless, opposition organized and prevailed, leading the FRA to issue a final and legally binding Record of Decision that killed the bypass.

That was that. In 2018, Charlestown hired a consultant, Connecticut Amtrak resistor Greg Stroud, to keep watch on AMTRAK. He was supposed to give Charlestown four reports, but only gave us one, which was not all that surprising, given there was nothing to report.

Then a year ago, Ruthie decided to stir the pot with her “They’re Back!” call. The Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) responded by using their 3-2 Town Council majority to give Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz virtually unlimited power, including, it appeared, the authority to declare martial law to "protect the town" from AMTRAK.

The CCA-3 Council majority pledged Charlestown would spend anything it needed, starting right away, to ward off this threat that Ruthie had declared.

Except there was – and is – no such threat.

Charlestown Council President Deb Carney talked directly to AMTRAK’s CEO William J. Flynn. He told her there was no intent to revive the Bypass. She spoke to RIDOT Director Peter Alviti, who represents the state on the federal rail planning committee. 

He not only said there was no bypass revival coming, but called the original bypass plan “a BAD plan.” Alviti met with a broad ad hoc group of town residents and representatives and emphatically repeated this to them. No Bypass.

He agreed to inform Charlestown immediately if there was any change and also does a monthly check-in with Council President Carney. No Bypass.

Federal Rail Administrator chief Amit Bose put it in writing in a letter to the Town Council: The Record of Decision is binding and there is No Bypass.

Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz persistently refused me access to the files the Town has on this issue. If there were actual facts to back up the CCA position, don’t you think he would have wanted me to see them? Don’t you think the CCA would have insisted…or would have revealed the evidence themselves?

While Platner, after a whole year, has produced not one shred of evidence, there is a preponderance of evidence, detailed above, showing that Platner is a liar.

It’s a hoax, a cruel hoax because it caused so much fear and stress to families in northern Charlestown

I believe Ruth’s stupid idea was to ensure that the CCA had at least one crisis to take into the 2022 election. The CCA has campaigned on fear of bogeymen since its first big election where the Devil Incarnate was their arch-enemy Jim Mageau.

The unlimited powers granted to Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz should be immediately revoked. Any money set aside to fight this imaginary threat needs to go back into the General Fund. Any consultants hired should be fired. Any money that has been spent needs to be carefully reviewed to dispel even the hint of graft.

The CCA, if not Platner personally, should reimburse the town for the time and money spent on sending out dozens of silly letters to elected officials all over the country to ask their support in fighting a non-existent threat. 

The only thing those letters did was to make Charlestown look ridiculous. Again.

Every time elected officials get caught lying to the public, it's another nail driven into democracy's coffin. It sows distrust, causes anger and may mean that the next time the town tries to tell people about a real threat, they may simply not believe it.

Platner and the CCA owe the residents of Charlestown, especially those who thought they might be in the Bypass’s path, an apology. But don’t hold your breath.