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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Donna Walsh saves New Year’s Eve Bonfire

DEM rescinds ban on popular event
DEM ban on bonfire goes POOF!
By Will Collette

Rep. Donna Walsh announced that the RI Department of Environmental Management (DEM) has rescinded its “Notice of Intent to Enforce” the state’s solid waste law against the town over its annual New Year’s Eve bonfire. That notice (click here to read my article about it) effectively banned the event by labeling the bonfire an illegal municipal garbage site.

On April 1, DEM sent the town its decision to rescind (click here to read it) saying the bonfire was actually “exempt” under the state’s air pollution regulations and DEM wanted its solid waste management program to be “consistent with the DEM’s air pollution regulations.” Since the bonfire was OK under the air pollution regs, it’s now OK under the solid waste regs.

This will come as a relief for the hundreds of area residents, including lots of children, who enjoy the annual bonfire. This year’s program was especially exciting because the intense fire and snow coverage combined to spawn dozens of harmless mini-tornados (click here to read my coverage and see my photos of the tornados).
Frank Glista & grandson in front of assembled bonfire pile

Frank Glista and volunteers build the bonfire from donated pallets from Arnold Lumber. The event is closely supervised by the Charlestown Fire District (my colleague Tom Ferrio got the honor of clambering up to the top of the pile in his full CFD turn-out gear to make sure everything was in proper order) and coordinated by the Parks and Recreation Department.

Since word of DEM’s enforcement action against the town broke, there’s been a lot of speculation about how it happened. DEM is a complaint-driven regulator. They do not have inspectors roaming the countryside looking for violations.

Indeed, if you have been following the Copar Quarry scandal, even when there are complaints – and lots of them – of health-threatening environmental hazards, DEM can be unresponsive.

Who's the rat?
So who was responsible for getting DEM to come down hard on the town? I figured there was a complaint from someone who is a zealot, doesn’t like seeing kids have fun, has contacts at DEM, doesn’t want family-oriented public activities in Ninigret Park and isn’t too fond of Frank Glista. I had a couple of people in mind.

CCA Party pundit Mike Chambers wrote in one of his regular “Chamberpots” on the CCA website that I was responsible. Yep, me. Chambers says that I “let the cat out of the bag” by writing about the bonfire in Progressive Charlestown.

Chambers says that DEM can read and they no doubt read Progressive Charlestown (doesn’t everybody?). Because, he says, “they know the law,” they busted Charlestown. And, he adds, I should fess up and accept the blame. Read this Chamberpot – I’m not making this up.

However, DEM told Donna Walsh that, as I suspected, they did indeed respond to a complaint, one that DEM said came from an anonymous source. 


Doesn’t that figure? I wonder if the voice on the phone was high-pitched, nasal and whiny.

As for Chambers’ statement that DEM knows the law, well, apparently, not so much, as they themselves admit. They are also a little behind the times – if you read the DEM letter, it’s addressed to Town “Manager” Bill DiLibero even though April 9th will be the first anniversary of Bill’s banishment from Charlestown after the CCA Party’s Kill Bill campaign. Plus the CCA Party doesn’t believe in the “town manager” form of government.

We’ll see if the next Chamberpot contains a retraction for errors and an apology for false accusation…but I ain’t holding my breath.

I’m glad the DEM admitted its error and lifted the ban. The bonfire is a great night out for people of all ages, but especially the kids. And it’s an especially fine way to ring in the New Year.