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Monday, December 20, 2021

The Muddy Genesis of the CCSPAA

Decade-Old Charlestown Citizens/Sachem Passage Alliance Association Emerges From The Mud Hole

By Robert Yarnall  

In small towns, it is easy for small decisions and big mistakes, local squabbles and petty rivalries to become everybody’s business. This is the story of how one neighborhood’s disputes can have a major effect on everyone, residents and town employees alike. 

 Part 4 Weaselocity :  Back To The Future

The Scene:

November 8, 2021, 8:30 PM

Charlestown Council Chambers

Sachem Passage Association President Ronald J. “Ronco” Areglado strained to do his duty as he dangled a classic bait & switch deal hand-crafted by SPA’s newly appointed Resource for Finance and Real Estate, Joseph Quadrato. 

The SPA desperately wanted to offload its money pit albatross, a chunk of highly suspect Foster Cove real estate, onto the backs of Charlestown taxpayers. The Town Council was not taking the bait. Nary a nibble. It did not go well. 

Finally, on December 6, nearly a month after Mr. Areglado’s Opus, the maestro himself keyboarded a snail-mail newsletter to the SPA general membership. It included this scantily clad reference to the evening’s performance art. Here is a scan of Item #2 from the mailing:

 For those readers who have not had the experience of two decades worth of Areglado-speak, I respectfully offer the following real-world translation. Let’s pick it up after the intro “In summary...” 

“...they asked us to respond to seven questions. At our Board Meeting on November 16th, we realized we had dug ourselves a hole so deep, there was no way out. So we’ll just leave things the way they are. We can talk about it next spring.” 

As 2021 comes to a close, the Sachem Passage Association remains bogged down in a quagmire of its own making. Twenty-one years ago, a handful of neighbors ignored the advice of another who knew better. 

That handful, however, did manage to construct a virtual petri dish, fed with equal parts ignorance and misinformation, setting the stage for the genesis of a new breed of political animal. The time was ripe for a different kind of worm hatch. The Charlestown Citizens/Sachem Passage Alliance Association – CCSPAA for acronym junkies - was emerging from the mud.   

The CCSAPP, an inbred species of pay-to-play cash cow, began its incomplete metamorphosis one brisk autumn afternoon, over a decade ago. The precipitating event that day took the shape of a diminutive humanoid riding a retro bicycle down East Quail Run in a robust crosswind wind, earnestly stuffing mailboxes with yellow leaflets (right). Deputy Dan Slattery was on a mission to save the town.

The leaflet campaign turned out to be a CCA-sponsored citizen-call-to-arms. It alerted everyone to an October 14th, 2010 Town Council Meeting, pointing to a scheduled vote to approve a public-private partnership with Whalerock LLC to install a pair of 410’ tall Vesta wind turbines on what is now the Charlestown Moraine Preserve. But In 2010, the parcel was owned by Whalerock LLC under the direction of local developer Lawrence LeBlanc. 

The Charlestown Moraine Preserve, Assessor’s Map Lot 17-186 depicted below, had previously been considered for a power line transmission corridor, a multi-unit condominium development, or, most recently, a wind turbine project known as Whalerock.

Sachem Passage I, being the highest density neighborhood abutting the proposed Whalerock project, became the epicenter of citizen resistance. 

Not everyone realized it at the time, but a core group of Sachem Passage residents, relative newcomers circa 2000, had been networking behind the scenes to form an activist, litigation-based organization to thwart Whalerock. The organization came to be known as Illwind. 

Illwind was essentially a subsidiary of the Sachem Passage Association. Its leader was Ronald Areglado. Its fundraiser was Joseph Quadrato. Its co-treasurers were Thomas Gilligan and Maureen Areglado. 

The final piece of Illwind’s organizational hierarchy was the most critical, an attorney to handle the litigation. Oddly enough, SPA’s retained attorney, Nicholas Gorham, just happened to be the attorney for Whalerock LLC, Illwind’s litigation target. He was, as they say, unavailable. 

Mr. Areglado delegated a lawyer search to Kristan O’Connor, his Partridge Run neighbor. Ms. O’Connor was a banking and financial services professional attached to a Boston firm. She was arguably the most qualified member of the Illwind inner circle to evaluate and choose a local attorney skilled in the legal issues facing Illwind. 

Based on Ms. O’Connor’s search, Attorney James Donnelly was selected to represent Illwind in matters pertaining to the Whalerock Wind Turbine Project. He was introduced to the general membership of Illwind on the evening of October 17, 2010, at an informational meeting held at the Areglado home.  

With all pieces in place, Illwind was ready to roll. Within a surprisingly short period of time, over $40,000 was raised, virtually all of it due to the sales skills of Joe Quadrato.  

Mr. Quadrato had developed formidable sales acumen as a survival skill, starting up a home-based office supply business in the hyper-competitive Greater Hartford area. Cold-calling and building a reliable client base was his forte´. It didn’t go unnoticed. Word got “around town” that Illwind had some clout. 

Deputy Dan Slattery (left) is the little man on the bike. The mail carrier
really resembles Tom Gentz (brother by a different mother?)
At Illwind’s organizational meeting, during the meet & greet preliminaries, Mr. Areglado yielded the floor to several people from “around town” who wanted to address the group. Thomas Gentz, Dan Slattery (left) and Cliff Vanover identified themselves as Town Council candidates sponsored by the Charlestown Citizens Alliance, the CCA. 

The CCA slate told us they were there to support our efforts. They asked for our consideration at the voting booth for the upcoming November elections. They thanked us for our time, found some empty seats off to the side of the main room, and watched the proceedings unfold. 

Illwind’s co-treasurers were tasked with managing the monies raised by Mr. Quadrato to pay for litigation costs. Donors were asked to make out personal checks not to Illwind, but to “Maureen Areglado and Thomas Gilligan.” 

The wise folks in the room (there weren’t many) wanted no part of that type of financial arrangement. They demanded that their names be removed from any pending litigation. 

One neighbor said that by writing a check payable to two private individuals rather than a business entity, you gave away your right to see how the money was spent,  and the account’s owner(s) had no legal obligation to produce said statements. 

A trusting neighbor reminded everyone that having co-treasurers provided assurance that financial matters would be legitimate, above board. After all, two signatures would be required for all transactions; there was “built-in transparency.” 

People anted up. The money rolled in, and not only from Sachem Passage. The $40,000 figure clearly indicated that whatever cold-call telephone script Joe Quadrato had put together, it was working. 

If Mr. Quadrato had been an institutional fundraiser for Ivy League schools instead of an office supply salesman, he wouldn’t have been cold-calling wealthy waterfront homeowners for donations at the age of 60. He would have been buying them out by the time he was 50. Maybe sooner. 

Apparently, the CCA realized the same thing. Joe Quadrato’s eventual ascendancy to the CCA Steering Committee was a foregone conclusion. The CCA and the SPA were joined at the hip, the part of the body right next to the wallet. 

For nearly two and a half years, From October 2010 through April 2013, Whalerock was the Hydra of the RI Superior Court system. You can find Progressive Charlestown’s analysis of the four-ring circus, along with links to decisions rendered by Superior Court Justices Judith Savage and Kristin Rodgers here.

The most pressing concern for those of us with homes on East Quail Run and the eastern-most end of Woodcock Trail was is that Whalerock LLC, the rightful owners of Lot 17-186, would proactively clear-cut the lot of all trees and vegetation, just to spite the neighbors in the event the wind turbine project was rejected. 

As the litigation crawled from one hearing to another and time went on, it was obvious that lawyers on both sides were racking up billable hours. Several of us asked for updates on Illwind’s money situation, specifically statements detailing income and expenses. We were told the legal fees were indeed mounting, that we were “doing ok” for the time being. But no actual documentation was provided. Never saw a monthly statement, not once. The wise guys were right, as usual. 

It took until 2013 for the Whalerock saga to play itself out, when the town bought Lot 17-186 for $2.14 million, thereby creating the 78-acre densely forested refuge known as the Charlestown Moraine Preserve

I can pick up a trail in the Moraine Preserve about 600 feet from my mailbox, the place where the little man-with the helmet-on the bicycle, Deputy Dan Slattery, was stuffing those yellow leaflets over eleven years ago. 

The Moraine Preserve features densely packed hardwood and softwood trees, vernal pools with amphibians, flower power-level mountain laurel,  daylight walking trails, nocturnal hoot owls, and a rare glimpse of a solitary critter commonly known as a fisher cat (left), a member of the weasel family. 

The scientific name of the Fisher Cat is Pekania pennanti. They are primarily omnivores and are notoriously elusive. 

In stark contrast, humanoid weasels eat anything they can grab for free and swarm like locusts when they smell other people’s money.   

Thanks for reading. Enjoy the holidays. We’ll ferret out the money trail next time.