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Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Shoreline access might just pass this time

Senate panel passes shoreline access bill out of committee

By Nancy Lavin, Rhode Island Current

After decades of disagreement over where to draw the line in the sand on public shoreline access, the chasm between opposing sides has narrowed to 4 feet.


That’s the distance between the access line set under legislation approved by the Rhode Island House in April and a version voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday night. 

Can a compromise be reached? Legislative leaders say yes.

In an emailed response on Thursday, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said, “I am confident that legislation will be approved this session that provides the public with meaningful access to the shoreline.”

But what defines meaningful access depends upon whom you ask.

The state constitution enshrines the right for people to “enjoy and freely exercise … the privileges of the shore” but doesn’t say how much of the shore is up for enjoying. 

A 1982 Rhode Island Supreme Court decision set the boundary at the mean high water line, a marker which can’t be determined without extensive scientific measurements and expertise, and, as climate change intensifies, has shifted underwater.

Lawmakers, property owners and beach enthusiasts have for decades debated where the line between public and private exists, without much consensus or clarity.

A legislative study commission which reviewed shoreline access in-depth for six months last year recommended 10 feet inland from the high tide line – also known as the seaweed or “wrack” line. That recommendation remains the top choice among some environmental and fishing groups.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Some honesty about protecting water in Charlestown

The real ‘monkey in the room’

By Frank Glista

Source: RI Water Resources Board

This article first appeared as a Letter To the Editor in The Westerly Sun on June 5. 
Note: Former Town Council President James Mageau also wrote a letter in response to Mr. Jacobsen. It can be read here.

In a recently published letter by Roy Jacobsen entitled, “Charlestown should be worried about water” (May 27), Mr. Jacobsen questions when the new Town Council will address the need for property that will serve as a source for fresh water. As a supporter of the Charlestown Citizens Alliance, one would wonder why he didn’t approach the CCA Town Council regarding this matter during their 12-year reign of power?

He also fails to acknowledge that the CCA attempted to deny a property owner’s right to sell their family’s land to the state of Rhode Island’s Water Resources Board back in 2015. This purchase eliminated the development of eight residential and two commercial buildings while providing 20 acres of open space, a wildlife habitat and a protected a water source for future generations.

Keep in mind that the CCA Town Council majority and Planning Commission Chairwoman Ruth Platner worked tirelessly to undermine this private sale. Not only were attacks levied against me and my family, but also against former Water Resources Board General Manager Ken Burke. But now, thanks to the Water Resources Board, this property is protected in Charlestown in spite of the efforts of the CCA.

In 2016, there was a meeting at the Quonnie Grange which was attended by a number of residents from Quonochontaug, where Mr. Jacobsen lives.

One of the speakers at this meeting was Lorraine Joubert, who at the time represented the Department of Natural Resources at URI. After answering a number of concerned citizens’ questions, she finally summed it up by telling the Quonnie crowd, “You are all drinking recycled wastewater.” Or, to put it bluntly, you’re drinking your neighbors’ sewage.

So “yes,” there is a water problem in Charlestown.

In his letter, Mr. Jacobsen asks, “What will it take?” Well, as long as he and others continue to support CCA candidates like Platner, you will never have potable water in Quonnie ... or anywhere else in Charlestown.

He also asks, “Would it not be prudent for the Town Council to reserve land for future fresh water access?” He continues, “This is the ‘monkey in the room’ that is being ignored.” As I see it, the only “monkey in the room” is the CCA, and fortunately, they were ignored during the last election. 


By Will Collette

I covered the jaw-dropping 2014-15 story of the CCA Council majority and Planning Commissar Ruth Platner’s battle to BLOCK the state Water Resources Board from purchasing land from Frank Glista to be set aside as open space to protect groundwater resources.

Given the CCA’s endless claims that it is the champion of open space and clean water, their desperate struggle to block this deal went beyond hypocrisy and into the Twilight Zone.

Their personal assault on Water Resource Board’s Ken Burke shredded the CCA claims to “civility” to the point where they actually had to apologize.

Now Frank, good man that he is, won’t say this but I will: the only reason the CCA dug in against this transaction was because they hated Frank. 

This is the budget presented by LaBossiere
to the Council in 2015
Now to be fair - kind of - the CCA has also been willing to throw out its sacred beliefs, such as its hatred of asphalt, to do favors for patrons, like CCA-cofounder Faith LaBossiere, when they poured tons of asphalt on Ninigret Park for a bike path no one uses. Faith promised the Council it would only cost $7,000. The final cost was $266,927 plus interest on the bond leading to a cost over-run of 4,000%.

The Slattery Doctrine in a nutshell
Deputy Dan Slattery tried to rationalize the CCA’s irrational position by making up a new policy: he claimed that no state or federal agency had any right to do anything in Charlestown without the Town Council’s expressed prior approval. I dubbed this invention “The Slattery Doctrine.”

In fact, in August 2016, the CCA Council majority authorized this:

“CA” L. Authorization of the Town Administrator to Send a Communication to All State Agencies and Regulatory Boards, to Specifically Include the Department of Transportation, the Department of Health, the Department of Environmental Management and the Water Resources Board, and Any Other Pertinent Agencies, Requesting Notification of Any State Projects Scheduled to Occur Within the Town of Charlestown

Incidentally, the mandate of the state Water Resources Board is to acquire and protect lands to preserve clean water supplies. They don’t need Charlestown’s permission to conduct a private transaction to advance that mandate.

For that matter, the federal Departments of Interior, Justice, Labor, Forest Service, EPA, Mine Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, IRS etc. do not need Charlestown’s permission to enter Charlestown to conduct their lawful duties.

Neither do the state Departments of Transportation, Health, Environmental Management, Children and Youth Services, State Police, etc.

I am so sick of the CCA insulting the people of Charlestown by assuming there are no records or institutional memory of all the crazy crap they did when they ruled Charlestown.

Here’s some of the articles I wrote about anti-water CCA crusade back in the day:

Progressive Charlestown: Charlestown’s new water war ( 

Progressive Charlestown: VIDEO: New border regulations for Charlestown (

Progressive Charlestown: Ruth Platner leaves fingerprints (

Hmmmm, could there be a cure?


Greatness vs. grossness


Solar Siting: Should the Law Define Where It’s Allowed, or Where It’s Not?

How about both?

By Rob Smith / ecoRI News staff

O&G built this array in a Southbury CT quarry
Lawmakers and environmental groups remain split among themselves over a key question of solar-siting reform: Should the law define where developers can build ground-mounted solar projects, or should it define the areas where they are not allowed to build solar arrays?

It sounds pedantic and overly wonky, but the distinction encapsulates a long-running debate within Rhode Island communities where solar arrays are frequently placed on forestland or over green space, much to the consternation of those who would prefer them elsewhere.

Despite the broad popularity of renewable energy in Rhode Island, residents from Warwick to Hopkinton to Portsmouth have protested the loss of forest and open space to solar development and have asked local officials for more restrictions on where they can be built.

A statewide fix has been long in the making. This year marks the furthest the General Assembly has gotten toward finding a state solution for the issue, but the two bills under consideration show competing visions for renewable energy development in Rhode Island.

Almost everyone agrees on the problems solar development has brought to Rhode Island — 69% of all forest loss in the state is from solar development, and more than 1,000 acres of forestland has been cleared to make way for such projects. Rural towns, such as Hopkinton, have seen more than 200 acres clear-cut for solar arrays.

It’s official! Charlestown has a genuine gourmet chef.

Congratulations to Sherry Pocknett and Sly Fox Den Too

By Will Collette 

Last night, the final awards were given by the James Beard Foundation for this year’s best chefs around the country. 

The James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef Northeast went to Sherry Pocknett, chef and owner of Sly Fox Den Too restaurant just north of Town Hall on Route 2.

The Beard awards are the top honors awarded in the culinary profession, akin to Pulitzers in journalism, so this is a really big deal. 

This is the first time in the 30 years that a Rhode Island chef has won this honor, the last being Al Forno’s win in 1993.

Ms. Pocknett opened Sly Fox Den Too in 2021 at the long-time site of the Gentleman Farmer of fond memories, but with a menu unique to the area.

She and her family present delicious indigenous dishes that reflect her Mashpee Wampanoag roots but with lots of artistic flare.

I’ve eaten there and enjoyed every dish.

I think the main problem I foresee is seating capacity – 30 seats, plus outdoor picnic tables like the old Gentleman Farmer.

We’re lucky to have her and I wish her long life and prosperity.

New York City is sinking, and it’s not alone

URI scientists examine how the weight of the city’s 1 million buildings are causing subsidence

Peter J. Hanlon

The New York City skyline. (Photo by Christian Lendl)
New York City is sinking, and some of the more than 1 million buildings that make up its ever-evolving skyline may be playing a part. For the coastal metropolis and others like it around the world, it’s yet another factor to account for as preparations are made for rising sea levels and strengthening storms.

In a new paper, scientists from the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography found that New York City is sinking at a rate of 1 to 4 millimeters per year. Even though this descent is consistent with natural subsidence in the region, the researchers found some areas of significantly greater subsidence rates, which may be related to the massive weight of the buildings. 

The study, led by Tom Parsons of the U.S. Geological Survey with GSO professors Meng (Matt) Wei and Steven D’Hondt, and GSO Ph.D. student Pei-Chin Wu, is part of a growing body of research on how waterfront cities are facing not just rising waters, but sinking land.

It’s hardly news that global sea levels are rising due to climate change, a threat facing coastal communities around the world, but this new research highlights how human infrastructure, including buildings, can increase vulnerabilities in unexpected ways. 

Monday, June 5, 2023

How AI could take over elections – and undermine democracy

It won't take the Terminator to destroy us

Archon FungHarvard Kennedy School and Lawrence LessigHarvard University

An AI-driven political campaign could be all things to
all people. Eric Smalley, TCUS; Biodiversity Heritage Library
/Flickr; Taymaz Valley/Flickr
Could organizations use artificial intelligence language models such as ChatGPT to induce voters to behave in specific ways?

Sen. Josh Hawley asked OpenAI CEO Sam Altman this question in a May 16, 2023, U.S. Senate hearing on artificial intelligence.

Altman replied that he was indeed concerned that some people might use language models to manipulate, persuade and engage in one-on-one interactions with voters.

Altman did not elaborate, but he might have had something like this scenario in mind. Imagine that soon, political technologists develop a machine called Clogger – a political campaign in a black box. 

Clogger relentlessly pursues just one objective: to maximize the chances that its candidate – the campaign that buys the services of Clogger Inc. – prevails in an election.

While platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube use forms of AI to get users to spend more time on their sites, Clogger’s AI would have a different objective: to change people’s voting behavior.

"The floor is yours"


In case you missed it


How to keep arguments from going south

Here are 4 ways to make your counterpart feel heard and keep the conversation going

Showing you’re listening is a critical part of fraught discussions.
 Thomas Barwick/DigitalVision via Getty Images
Your 18-year-old daughter announces she’s in love, dropping out of college and moving to Argentina. 

Your yoga-teaching brother refuses to get vaccinated for COVID-19 and is confident that fresh air is the best medicine. 

Your boss is hiring another white man for a leadership team already made up entirely of white men.

At home, at work and in civic spaces, it’s not uncommon to have conversations that make you question the intelligence and benevolence of your fellow human beings.

A natural reaction is to put forth the strongest argument for your own – clearly superior – perspective in the hope that logic and evidence will win the day. When that argument fails to have the intended persuasive impact, people often grow frustrated, and disagreement becomes conflict.

Thankfully, recent research offers a different approach.

For many years, psychologists have touted the benefits of making parties in conflict feel heard. Making someone you’re arguing with feel that you’re listening can calm the troubled waters, allowing both parties to get safely to the opposite shore. Two problems can get in the way, though.

First, when encountering disagreement, most people jump into “persuasion mode,” which doesn’t leave much room for listening, or even for pursuing other goals for the interaction. 

Any conversation could be an opportunity to learn something new, build a relationship that might bear fruit later, or simply have an interesting experience. But most of those goals get forgotten when the urge to persuade sets in. Second, and just as important, is that even when people do wish to make their counterparts feel heard they don’t know how to do so.

younger and older man in discussion across dining table
Pushing through your own perspective can feel like the
only reason to engage.
 Maskot via Getty Images

I lead a team of psychologists, negotiation scholars and computational linguists who have spent years studying ways that parties in conflict can behave to make their counterpart feel they are thoughtfully engaging with their perspective.

Rather than trying to change how you think of or feel about your counterpart, our work suggests that you should focus on changing your own behavior. Focusing on behavior rather than thoughts and feelings has two benefits: You know when you are doing it right, and so does your counterpart. And one of the easiest behaviors to change is the words that you say.

Microplastics are harming gut health

Microplastic pollution is altering the gut microbiomes of wild seabirds, and humans should be wary too

McGill University

Scientists have been worried about the potential harms of microplastics for years. These small plastic particles less than 5 mm in length have been found everywhere because of plastic pollution -- from the Earth's deep oceans to remote regions in Antarctica, and even the seafood we eat. But, are microplastics really harmful?

An international team of scientists, including researchers from McGill University, have found evidence that microplastics in the digestive tract of seabirds altered the microbiome of the gut -- increasing the presence of pathogens and antibiotic-resistant microbes, while decreasing the beneficial bacteria found in the intestines.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

The US Could Soon Have Its First Trillionaire.

That's No Cause for Celebration

BOB LORD for Inequality.Org

All hat, no cow. Jeff Bezos laughs during a press conference on July 20, 2021 in Van Horn, Texas. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

It’s been a full decade now since I first predicted — warned, to be a bit more precise — that America would have its first trillionaire before 2040.

I stand by that warning today. Unfortunately, everything I said ten years ago has aged well. Too well. I explained back then how tax policy was supercharging the accumulation of obscene fortunes in America. 

Policymakers, I noted, had lifted the lid on wealth accumulation by decreasing taxes on inheritances and income from capital. That policy failure would go on to become substantially worse in 2017 with the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Others would see this same ominous trend. In an interview with CNBC, several experts recognized the distinct possibility the world would have its first trillionaire by 2039, the year CNBC would turn 50.