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Sunday, December 19, 2021

CCA tries to keep Charlestown Choo-Choo hoax alive

The one thing missing from the CCA’s story: EVIDENCE

By Will Collette

Donald Trump still thinks he won the 2020 election and the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) still thinks there will be a new AMTRAK rail line linking Old Saybrook, CT and Kenyon, RI.

Neither Trump nor the CCA have a shred of evidence to back up their claims. You would think that if they DID have such evidence, they would have produced it by now.

The only explanation for the CCA’s claim that the Old Saybrook-Kenyon bypass project, killed dead in 2017, is coming back is this: The CCA runs and wins on fear. They scare Charlestown voters into believing disaster is just around the corner and only the CCA can save them.

Nearly all of these past threats were exaggerated. This one is simply a hoax.

Quick background

In 2017, the CCA went to Def-Con1 when the Federal Rail Administration (FRA), AMTRAK’s parent, unveiled a plan for a new Old Saybrook to Kenyon Bypass to accommodate high-speed rail. 

The existing rail line can’t handle Acela trains running at full speed. It also faces being swamped by sea level rise, especially along my favorite stretch of track between Westerly and New London.

Charlestown leaders ignored earlier warnings from the feds such as a draft report that no one in Town Hall read. As then CCA Town Council President Tom Gentz put it, “Who’s got time to read this stuff?” The CCA then lied, claiming the FRA never gave them any notice or chance to participate. Then they launched a full mobilization.

The Old Saybrook-Kenyon Bypass was a terrible plan that would have destroyed farms, nature preserves, historic properties, even the Mystic Aquarium at an astronomical cost for little or no tangible gain. It was a good fight even though the outcome was not in doubt.

I predicted in December 2016 the Bypass had no chance of adoption. The Bypass was not only a bad plan, but it also had no funding, no Congressional support and no support from the new Trump Administration. Trump had no interest in trains or anything that might benefit the Blue states in the Northeast that voted against him.

By the end of 2017, the FRA issued a binding record of decision that officially killed the Bypass.

Fast forward

On July 15, 2021, CCA leader and town Planning Commissar Ruth Platner wrote a widely circulated broadside titled “They’re Back” that made the claim – with no evidence – that the Bypass had returned from the grave. So everyone needed to get very worried very quickly.

The CCA majority on the Town Council had an even more radical reaction. Again, with absolutely no evidence, they decided Charlestown would devote whatever money it took to block this non-existent threat. They also gave Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz (right 👉) undefined, unlimited dictatorial powers to “protect” Charlestown.

It seems the main use Stankiewicz has made of his new superpowers is to shut down access to town records. I had filed a request to look at the town files on AMTRAK and was given a bill for nearly $200 even though the town has been giving Progressive Charlestown free access for the past 10 years. I believe there is nothing of merit in those files.

The Council also directed Stankiewicz to write letters to every government official and bureaucrat who might have anything remotely to do with railroads to tell them how scared we were about the non-existent Bypass and that we were still pissed about 2017.

The letters were written even though there still is absolutely no evidence of an actual threat. This, despite a direct conversation last August between Council President Deb Carney and AMTRAK’s CEO who assured Deb the Bypass was dead. 

This, despite a November 12 meeting between a delegate of Charlestown reps and RIDOT Director Peter Alviti. Alviti represents the state on the official FRA commission. Alviti said flat-out that the Bypass was known to be a bad plan in 2017 and wasn’t coming back.

Charlestown got few responses to its first letter, certainly none from the FRA, since the letter made no sense (it focused almost entirely on the dead 2017 bypass project) and the addressees were being asked to comment on a new threat that doesn’t exist. 

I’m surprised they didn’t get at least one letter back saying “What the F**K are you talking about?” Or maybe they did but Stankiewicz won’t make it public.

So naturally, the CCA told Stankiewicz to write a SECOND letter. This one asks the FRA to explain the process for the planned New Haven to Providence Capacity Planning Study because the CCA thinks this study somehow “leaves open the door for new rail alignments that could negatively impact Charlestown’s residents and natural resources.”

Again, there is no evidence or factual basis for this claim.

However, Peter Alviti, Rhode Island’s official representative in this process had already answered that question. He bluntly told the Charlestown delegation that it makes no economic sense to build a new rail line through Charlestown. The top priorities are making rail travel faster and easier between Hartford, Providence and Boston.

The CCA just can’t seem to take “yes” for an answer and stays committed to their Charlestown Choo-Choo hoax. But then, if they gave up on this hoax, they’d only have to concoct another threat to run on in 2022.