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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Ruth Platner goes off the rails

Tries to stir outrage over imaginary threat

By Will Collette

In 2016-17, just about everyone in Charlestown (including me) opposed a proposal by AMTRAK to build a new rail bed between Old Saybrook, CT and Kenyon for high-speed trains across the top of Charlestown. The new route would have wreaked havoc on farms, historic and tribal sites, nature preserves and homes.

Resistance actually started in Connecticut. Charlestown joined in late because the ruling Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA Party) ignored prior notices – as then Council President Tom Gentz put it “Who has time to wade through that?”

However much we hated that plan, from the start, it had almost zero chance of actually being carried out since (a) Donald Trump had not approved it and (b) was unlikely to support any project that helped northeastern Blue states that voted against him in 2016, plus (c) the Republican-controlled Congress didn’t fund the plan.

AMTRAK beat a retreat claiming they needed to re-think the project and the so-called “Old Saybrook-Kenyon Bypass,” the one that would have run through us, was taken off the table in a BINDING Record of Decision.

But now it’s 2021. Trump is gone. Democrats control the Congress. President Joe Biden LOVES trains and a major infrastructure project like upgrading rail service along the Northeast Corridor makes more sense than ever for jobs and for its very positive carbon footprint.

So naturally, Charlestown’s Planning Commissar Ruth Platner is sounding the alarm: “THEY’RE BACK?” as she put it as if AMTRAK bulldozers were about to break ground for the decisively defeated Old Saybrook-Kenyon Bypass. You can read her rants HERE and HERE.

However, there is NO EVIDENCE that AMTRAK plans to resurrect the Old Saybrook-Kenyon Bypass. According to Ruth’s only source, the on-line Connecticut Examiner, AMTRAK wants to connect Providence to Hartford with high-speed rail.

That's true, but not the way Ruth thinks it is. In fact, AMTRAK already has a route to make the high-speed rail connection between Hartford and Providence that doesn’t come anywhere near Charlestown, called North Atlantic Rail. Here’s the map:

Read more about this plan in EcoRI’s February 5, 2021 article HERE noting explicitly that this plan doesn't come anywhere close to Charlestown.

But Ruth is shook up over another map (BELOW) that ran with the Connecticut Examiner article. That map shows the general location of the gap between New Haven and Providence but DOES NOT indicate any threat to Charlestown.

I read that same article even before Ruth started ranting about it and had entirely different takeaways.

CT Examiner graphic

For example, the article accurately notes that AMTRAK eventually dropped the Kenyon to Old Saybrook Bypass, and the widening of the rail corridor near Guilford from a binding record of decision released on July 12, 2017.” Note the term binding.

Nothing in the article says or implies that AMTRAK intends to set aside that BINDING decision, but that’s not what Ruth Platner would have you believe.

In fact, the article largely focuses on AMTRAK’s announced plans to upgrade the other sections of the Northeast Corridor especially in Hartford.  

The article quotes a 2017 Connecticut Mirror article that said:

“At the time, Rebecca Reyes-Alicia, who managed the federal project for FRA, told Ana Radelat, a reporter for CT Mirror, “there was no consensus” for the proposed bypass through southeastern Connecticut. Reyes-Alicea said there would be instead a later “healthy” process for finalizing a route between New Haven and Providence. That process would still require any solution to meet the overall goals for service and time savings between Providence and New Haven and would consider on-corridor and off-corridor solutions.”

But apparently Ruth missed the date of the article and thought this was AMTRAK’s current plan so she sounded the alarm thinking there is an imminent threat – which there is not.

The article only mentions one new action that may have some bearing on us and that’s “two studies: a ‘New Haven to Providence Capacity Planning Study,’ and a ‘New Haven to New Rochelle NEC Capacity and Trip Time Planning Study’ at some unspecified time. A "capacity planning study" does not mean we need to grab the pitchforks and picket signs.

Note that the North Atlantic Rail plan (map above) covers high-speed rail service between New Haven, Hartford and Providence coming nowhere near us.

Why is Ruth trying to start a panic?

One theory is that Ruth is using the CCA Party’s tried-and-true technique of creating boogeymen to scare Charlestown voters into believing that only the CCA can save Charlestown from Armageddon.

Or perhaps she’s trying to skew people’s answers to the survey currently in the hands of every Charlestown household. For the most part, that survey tests how much residents approve of the status quo and how much they hate a long, long list of threats. REMINDER: please fill your survey and send it in.

Whether Ruth is playing the long con or just going for a cheap thrill, it does seem like we will be hearing a lot more about some of threats the CCA wants us all to fear.

For example, the CCA is currently featuring a talk on the 1973 attempt to turn the decommissioned Ninigret Naval air field into a nuclear power plant at the Quonnie Grange.

That battle was before my 2002 arrival as a Charlestown resident, but I’ve talked to veterans of that fight who still remember the town’s unity of purpose. Instead of a power plant, the Navy base became Ninigret Park and the Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge.

It's always something
It’s good to remember history – this 50 year old campaign was one for the ages. The CCA concedes that Nuclear power seems highly unlikely to be proposed again for coastal Charlestown” but History is more likely to be repeated if it is allowed to be forgotten.”

Next up, I expect Ruth to resurrect the mythic threat of a Narraganset tribal casino in Charlestown now that the US Department of Interior is run by Deb Haaland, a Native American of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico.

For more than a decade, Charlestown politics have been fueled by fear and bullshit. If it’s not a stampeding herd of developers, it’s AMTRAK. If not AMTRAK, it’s nukes or the Indians or chain stores or wind turbines or shiny lights or improperly trimmed shrubbery.

Or it’s getting dates wrong and mistaking 2017 for 2021.