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Monday, June 9, 2014

Lots and lots of Charlestown Tapas

Short takes from in and around Charlestown
By Will Collette

Millstone power plant – I guess there IS cause for alarm
turnislefthome animated GIF

Despite my pessimistic belief that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would blow off recent safety problems at nearby Millstone nuclear power plant (just 20 miles to the west of Charlestown), the NRC announced that it plans to conduct a special inspection to find out why tanks ruptured and radiation escaped when outside power to the nuke was cut off briefly.

The outage knocked out both nuclear reactors and caused damage that prevented the plant from going back on line for days. 

But most disturbing was the rupture of the cooling water tanks. Not only is this not supposed to happen, but it could set off a cascade of problems with dire consequences to the plant’s immediate neighbors as well as down-winders like us.

While all this was going on, 420 Millstone workers voted in a two-day election to determine whether or not they wanted the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) to be their union. The results of the vote were not announced immediately (not a good sign for the union); both sides await a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board.

Narragansett Tribe wants Newport Navy land

Newport Navy Base, c. 1908
The Narragansett Indian Tribe has asked the US Bureau of Indian Affairs to acquire 400 acres of former Newport Navy Base land on their behalf for an unspecified use. The Towns of Newport and Portsmouth are currently considering buying that property for themselves, potentially for future development at a price of somewhere between $500,000 and $1.6 million.

If the towns don’t buy the land, the BIA will probably take title on behalf of the Tribe. If that happens, the land will become tax-exempt, while the land could add $30 million or more to the towns’ property rolls if it is bought by the towns and then sold for private development.

Charlestown’s Special Counsel for Indian Affairs Joe Larisa has, in the past, fought tribal land deal proposals elsewhere in Rhode Island, apparently because Charlestown wants him to block any project that might help the Tribe to prosper. Prime example: Larisa’s intervention to block the Tribe from buying the Twin River gaming parlor in Lincoln. For this, Charlestown taxpayers pay him $25,000 a year.

Chariho schools do well in annual state ranking

The Rhode Island Department of Education issued its annual rankings of Rhode Island schools today (June 9) and the six schools that make up the Chariho School District did very well. The lowest rating any of the schools received was "typical" (i.e. average) for Hope Valley and Richmond Elementary. Two received the highest ranking of "Commended" - Chariho High School and Charlestown Elementary. Charlestown Elementary was among the elite group of six schools who have received this top ranking for three years in a row.

Chariho Middle School and Ashaway Elementary both scored the second-highest ranking of "leading."

Area Job Openings

The Swearer Center for Public Service at Brown University provides one of the best daily listings of jobs available in non-profit organizations in the state. If you are looking for a job, you need to be on their list. Click here to subscribe for their daily e-mail list.

For example, there are two job openings at the Wood River Health Center, one for a behavioral health manager and the other for a family medicine physician.

The J. Arthur Trudeau Center in Coventry is looking for a speech and language pathologist. URI’s First Star Academy for kids in foster care is looking for a licensed clinician/social worker.

The Jonnycake Center of Peace Dale is looking for a development assistant (a.k.a. fund-raiser). Act fast on that one as the deadline was supposed to be June 6. Sorry for being late with this listing.

These are just the listings for jobs near Charlestown. There are lots more jobs on the Brown listing all over the state in the non-profit sector.

Speaking of local jobs….

The Ebenezers at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital, owners of Westerly Hospital, tell the Westerly Sun that layoffs at Westerly Hospital are “unlikely.” L&M hired outside consultants to review all of its operations and subsidiaries to look for ways to cut costs and boost profits. They have already warned workers in New London that job cuts are likely, either through attrition or lay-off.

Among the reasons that support the “unlikely” remark are that staffing levels were cut to the bone when Westerly Hospital was facing bankruptcy prior to being bought by L&M. In addition, there is a court-overseen, binding agreement signed by L&M that it will maintain clinical services for two years. But, tick, tick, tick….

And speaking of Westerly Hospital

Mark Russo 
(from his law firm's web site)
While Westerly Hospital was going through its long and painful receivership, its court-appointed receiver was a local lawyer Mark Russo

Russo got himself some unwanted publicity recently when he was arrested by South Kingstown Police for violating the state’s social host law. Russo allegedly bought booze for an after-Prom party for his daughter at the family’s nearby Moonstone Beach Road home.

Police were called to the scene at 4 AM after an 18 year old woman was so drunk that she had to be taken to the hospital. Police report 22 minors on the scene with open alcohol containers scattered about. Police reported that Russo had apparently collected the teenagers’ car keys and had blocked the driveway to prevent any of them from driving off. Nice touch, but that doesn’t make it legal to give the kids booze.

Russo displayed some poor judgment during his time as Westerly Hospital’s receiver when he accepted several truckloads of free stone from the controversial Copar Quarry in Bradford right in the middle of the litigation between the Town of Westerly and Copar.

Ritacco Roast

Bob Ritacco (from his website)
There’s a petition circulating around Westerly to put a ballot question before the voters in November to change the Westerly Town Charter. The Charter change would prohibit persons from serving simultaneously on a town board or commission and a town or state political committee. 

Though the petition is broad and generic in nature, the target of the petition is Bob Ritacco who is both the head of the Westerly Zoning Board of Review and also chairs the Westerly Democratic Town Committee.

Ritacco is also employed by the City of Providence and is active in Providence Mayor Angel Taveras’ campaign for Governor.

Regular Progressive Charlestown or Westerly Sun readers may remember that early in 2013, Ritacco was also the leading candidate to become executive director of the Westerly Housing Authority. Apparently, Ritacco and WHA General Counsel George Comolli had secretly been in negotiations for the job.

What turned that deal-making into a Big F***g Deal was that Comolli was (still is) a principal in Westerly Granite, the landlord of the infamous Copar Quarry in Bradford, and that while this deal-making was going on, Copar was appealing a town cease-and-desist order in front of Ritacco’s Zoning Board! How do you spell “conflict of interest?”

George A. Comolli
George Comolli (from his website)
During most of 2012 and up until the time Sun investigative reporter Dale Faulkner revealed the Comolli-Ritacco deal negotiations, Ritacco kept delaying the hearing on the cease-and-desist order allowing Copar to continue strip-mining without interruption for months.

In my opinion, this proposed ballot question is the wrong tactic. The problem isn’t that Ritacco is on the town Democratic Committee. The problem is that he had an obvious conflict of interest that he kept hidden until the Sun uncovered it. 

Instead of a potentially unconstitutional ban on town service and party committee membership (or for that matter, membership in any other group) that will affect many good and decent people, the town should strengthen its laws and particularly its enforcement of bans on conflicts of interest. Why not take the more direct approach and avoid unintended consequences?

Or have the folks running this petition drive decided to convert the Copar fight into a partisan vendetta? It wouldn't be the first time an important issue got ripped off.

Don’t get ripped off at work

Lots of workers these days find themselves in situations where their boss isn’t really their boss, especially if you are injured or get laid off. If you’re working as a temp, day laborer, contract employee and a wide variety of other capacities designed primarily to relieve bosses of the routine responsibilities of being a boss, you should check out “Who’s the Boss?" This is a new guidebook on your rights written by the good people at the National Employment Law Project. You can download this guidebook for free by clicking here.

WARM Center will feed more low-income children this summer

The WARM Center in Westerly is expanding its food program to include basic brown bag lunches for children enrolled in summer playground programs at Cimalore and Craig fields. WARM has been providing breakfast and lunches for 100 students each summer who attend a summer program in Bradford. Click here for more information and for information on other summer food programs for children in our area.

Is DEET safe?

way animated GIFThis is surely going to be a bad year for bugs, especially for ticks. I’ve already had one tick bite and every time I go out to our composter, I usually come back with a couple of “travelers.” Bug repellants with DEET are just about the best way to keep the creepy crawlers (ticks, mosquitos, etc.) off of you when you’re walking around in tick territory, but as with any chemical agent, you should weigh the safety and health issues in the balance.

Popular Science recently ran a compilation of recent studies on the safety and effectiveness of DEET. DEET is doctor-recommended and safe to use, as directed, on skin. There are very few reported cases of illnesses or side effects when DEET used as directed. Some reports note problems in pregnant women who used heavy doses and on other people who ate the stuff – which is not recommended.

One of the stupidest DEET users recorded in one of the studies was a 30-year old man who applied DEET as a remedy for a rash (which it is not). After applying DEET to half of his body, he would go into a sauna for 90 minutes. Then he would apply DEET to the other half of his body and do another 90 minutes in the sauna. He did this for a week before experiencing a psychotic break which earned him 10 days in the hospital. Apparently, he recovered from his self-inflicted overdose, but I doubt he was cured of his stupidity.

The key report, according to Popular Science, ran in the Journal of Parasites and Vectors (renowned for its prize-winning crossword puzzle) which you can read by clicking here.

There are, of course, alternatives to using DEET against ticks and mosquitos, such as raising guinea fowl who make a meal of ticks before you make a meal of them. Avon Skin-So-Soft is a pretty good repellent. You could invest in a Mosquito Magnet or similar device including the good old-fashioned bug zapper. 

Since I’ve already had to go through a course of doxycillin for Lyme-like symptoms, I really don’t need any more tick bites, so I find DEET an important health measure.

CPD to the rescue

The Charlestown Police Department under Chief Jeff Allen is making strides in communicating with the public. They’re using Facebook and the internet and just came out with their new Summer newsletter.

The Facebook page is a lot of fun. The CPD uses it not only to put out alerts on accidents, impending bad weather and events, but also post nostalgic photos of the CPD in years past.

I especially liked a recent posting of a photo essay showing collaboration by CPD and DEM to rescue a small deer that had fallen into a swimming pool on Driftwood Drive. I’ll bet it tasted great on the BBQ later on. Joking. The pool owners will probably have to add a few gallons of DEET to the water.

Spanish bank used by local government in trouble again

Santander - Boycott !In a recent Charlestown Tapas, I reported my success in collecting $50 in compensation from the state DOT for my busted mailbox wrecked during one of our storms. I noted that the check, signed by General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, was issued from the Santander Bank, a Spanish bank in serious trouble with European regulators. Even if Santander didn’t have this baggage, I wondered aloud why Rhode Island needs to put its money in a Spanish Bank.

Now there’s another reason to question Ms. Raimondo’s investment choice. The City of Providence has filed suit against Santander charging it with racial discrimination by reducing its loans to minority neighborhoods while boosting lending in mostly white neighborhoods. The suit was filed in federal court and alleges that this practice, called “red-lining,” violates the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.

Again I have to wonder why Ms. Raimondo would allow one nickel of Rhode Island to be deposited into a foreign bank, especially this one.

Wind power for you? Not in Charlestown.

"Wind power is not moral or ethical"
It’s hard to believe that it’s been two and a half years since the Town of Charlestown became one of the first in the nation to ban wind energy. Yes, we wanted to stop a huge pair of wind turbines from being built on the moraine, but in the process of flubbing around for a way to block Whalerock, we ended up effectively banning any kind of wind-to-electricity device of any sort in the town through an ordinance enacted in November 2011.

Since then, we have ended the Whalerock threat by buying the land out from under the project using taxpayer-approved open space/recreation bond funds. But we still have the draconian anti-wind energy ordinance on the books and it’s time to talk about pulling back from the total ban.

But, says the CCA Party, it’s not a total ban because, as long as you meet all the terms and conditions in the ordinance, you can install a small home-use wind generator or even a somewhat larger commercial one. Right. Except when you look at the actual ordinance, the terms and conditions are impossible to meet. Not one single application has been filed with the town since the ordinance was enacted.

nautilus-shaped silent rooftop wind turbineWith every passing day, the need for green energy to combat climate change becomes more intense and the technologies for wind energy keep improving. For example, there’s a new high-efficiency, rooftop wind generator called the Liam 1 that is almost totally silent. It has none of the alleged problems anti-wind NIMBYs have attached to wind energy. One Liam 1 unit could supply 50% of a home’s electricity.

But before you even think about getting one of these for your home, click here to review what you will have to do in order to comply with Charlestown law. Then ask yourself, “What is the CCA Party thinking?”

EcoRI gets award

Speaking of green energy, our friends at, southern New England's only comprehensive environmental news source, won one of five Rhode Island Foundation "Non-Profit Excellence" awards for their program to collect food scraps to be composted and used in urban gardens. 

You've seen their work often in Progressive Charlestown under our mutual content sharing agreement. 

They practice what they preach, and this earned them a $1,000 from the Foundation and hopefully more supporters - go to their website by clicking here.

Summer theatre

I found a great link that lays out the theatre offerings in Rhode Island this summer. It covers a lot of our local theatre, including Theatre by the Sea, the Westerly plays in Wilcox Park as well as other performances. Click here.

Upcoming events

Rep. Jim Langevin is hosting a lunch at the Twin Willows restaurant in Narragansett to meet constituents and hear their concerns. It will be held on Saturday June 21 from noon to 2 PM. Twin Willows is at 865 Boston Neck Road in Narragansett.

From Charlestown Parks & Recreation:

For Seth Magaziner, endorsed by the Charlestown Democratic Town Committee in his run for the Democratic nomination for RI General Treasurer: