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Wednesday, November 17, 2021

The Great Charlestown Choo-Choo Caper has run out of steam

CCA goes big on their AMTRAK Lie

By Will Collette

On November 12, the CCA posted an item titled “Update On Railroad Meeting With RI DOT Director Peter Alviti that took place on Nov. 3. 

The article is unsigned attributed only to an “Outside Source.” When you click on the outside source link,” you get no information about the identity or nature of this outside source. 

It’s clear the writer was someone who wasn’t at the meeting. The CCA article is very different than the report actual meeting participants gave at the November 8 Town Council meeting. 

The meeting with Alviti was organized by Council President Deb Carney (who is not even named in the CCA article) to get some real answers from Rhode Island’s official representative on the Northeast Corridor Commission. He’s our guy on railway issues. 

In addition to Deb Carney, Council Vice-President Cody Clarkin (CCA), Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz, concerned citizen Kim Coulter were there. State Rep. Blake “Flip” Filippi and State Senator Elaine Morgan also took part in the Alviti meeting. 

They wanted to discuss rumors circulating in Charlestown since July when CCA leader and Charlestown Planning Commissar Ruth Platner wrote a piece entitledThey’re Back.” 

Who’s back, you might ask? 

This is Platner's only evidence - a map drawn by the CT Examiner
According to Platner the feds planned to revive the now-dead 2017 “Old Saybrook-Kenyon Bypass.” She had no evidence other than a map (right) from a Connecticut blog with a circle drawn on it showing area between New Haven and Providence. 

The dead Bypass was to be a new AMTRAK line from New London to Kingston Station passing through, among other things, the Mystic Aquarium, farms, forests, protected lands and homes. 

The Bypass died in 2017. Why claim otherwise?

The Bypass was a terrible plan and everyone knew it. It also wasn’t a very serious plan, as Alviti made clear during the Nov. 3 meeting. He said it was ill-conceived, poorly crafted, too expensive, and wouldn’t save any time. 

Further, the Bypass had no funding, no Congressional support and no support at all in the newly inaugurated Trump Administration where railroad improvements in the Northeast were nowhere on his agenda. 

The Bypass officially died in 2017 when the Federal Railway Administration issued its binding Record of Decision laying the Bypass in its grave. 

But for reasons unknown, Platner decided to mount her pony and ride through town yelling “The choo-choos are coming! The choo-choos are coming!” 

This immediately got the families who were in the path of the 2017 Bypass plan very upset. 

Despite all the high level of panic in Charlestown, no media outlet other than the CT Examiner has carried anything about the revival of the Bypass Plan. That's not surprising because, as RIDOT's Peter Alviti said repeatedly, "There is no plan."

So why did Ruth light a torch to that bonfire again? And where oh where is her evidence that there actually is a crisis. 

Last August, Council President Deb Carney did her best to allay people’s anxieties by actually speaking directly to the CEO of AMTRAK, William Flynn who told her there was no plan to revive the Bypass and that if new lines were built, they would most likely run along I-95. 

That information spurred Greg Stroud, publisher of the CT Examiner blog to take a snarky shot at Deb claiming that running rail along I-95 is the same thing as the Old Saybrook Kenyon Bypass and Deb was being naive. I guess Stroud has a unique way of reading maps. 

Still, Stroud also had no more evidence of the Bypass’s revival than Platner did when she sounded the alarm. 

If there IS evidence of a threat, why not show it? 

I did what I typically do – I requested electronic copies of the files the town had on hand about this threat. Since no one from the CCA was forthcoming with anything to back up this new alarm, I wanted to see – and publish – what they had. 

I also had heard that Charlestown hired Greg Stroud AFTER the 2017 Record of Decision to watch AMTRAK to see if what they were up to and whether it threatened Charlestown. It bore some resemblance to the $24,000+ a year Charlestown pays attorney Joe Larisa to watch the Narragansett Tribe to see if they are up to any mischief. 

Typical Charlestown open records response
In my open records request I also asked for a copy of the contract with Stroud as well as any reports he did for the town. 

That’s when our stalwart Town Administrator Mark “Stonewall” Stankiewicz dropped the Iron Curtain on my research efforts. 

You may recall he had tried to stop my efforts to expose the “SPA-Gate” real estate scam by blacking out (redacting) huge portions of records (example to the right). 

Now Stankiewicz is using extortion to block records release. 

He had Town Clerk Amy Weinreich compile and send me a “bill” for $178.35 to get the Town’s AMTRAK records and Stroud’s contract and reports. According to the bill, they spent 10 hours gathering 189 pages of which two hours were spent blacking out information they didn’t want revealed. 

Since I had been on the redaction merry-go-round coastal before, getting page after page of blacked-out records, I decided I not to spend $178.35 to buy more blacked-out content. 

Further, Stankiewicz broke a 10-year relationship I had with Town Hall where I could get electronic copies of records for use in Progressive Charlestown at no charge. Fee waivers are allowed under the state open records law and the Attorney General’s office encourages MORE, not less disclosure. 

If the Town of Charlestown has evidence that validates the purported threat from AMTRAK, don’t you think it’s in the public interest to release it? If not to me, than to the CCA? 

I’ve been going after government records since the 1970s. This may be the worst stonewall I’ve experienced in all those years. In my experience, when a public agency attempts wholesale denial of access, it usually means they are covering up corruption, incompetence or embarrassment. 

In this case, it could be all three. 

I have a copy of Greg Stroud’s contract and what appears to be his sole report, obtained from a whistle-blower. I have posted both to the cloud and you can read them HERE and HERE.

The contract, signed by Stankiewicz in Feb. 2018, hires Stroud through his business, Lyme Street Consulting, for a one-year gig at $2,500. He was supposed to submit written reports every two months but apparently only wrote one, dated September 20, 2018. His contract expired on December 31, 2018. 

Here's a screenshot of the terms:

In fairness to Stroud, there wasn’t a whole lot to write about, certainly not enough for five reports rather than just the one. CLICK HERE to read the whole report; after all, YOU paid $2500 for it ($415 a page). 

The Bypass was killed by the Record of Decision – as he wrote in his six-page 9/20/18 report:

Stroud also acknowledged the absence of support from Trump for any work on the Northeast Corridor. He also noted the shift in priorities among rail planners to inland routes and even included a map (below) showing absolutely no threat to Charlestown. 

That map is very different than the one he printed with a Sharpie® circling a broad area that includes Charlestown. 

So why is Charlestown under a state of emergency? What cranked up Ruthie’s volume? Why did Bonnie Van Slyke ramrod a resolution giving Mark Stankiewicz unlimited power to do whatever it takes to fight the choo-choo threat? 

Why did the CCA decide to terrorize the poor folks in northern Charlestown again over nothing? 

In my opinion, Platner and the CCA wanted another scary issue to use during the 2022 campaign. Plus, there is no easier issue to win than one that you've already won. And maybe Greg Stroud wanted another contract.

The November 3 meeting with Alviti should put the Bypass issue to rest once and for all. About Charlestown’s current panic, Alviti said “There is no plan” and probably won’t be for at least 10 years. Even then, a project like the Bypass doesn’t make sense either from a cost standpoint or to save time along the route.

He agreed to regular check-ins and to notify Charlestown ASAP if anything changes.

Let’s face it: this has all been an elaborate hoax by the CCA along with a CCA-inspired Town Hall cover-up. I’d like to know why they did it.

 Ah, if only there was some accountability in the fair town of Charlestown!