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Monday, August 7, 2023

Congratulations to local heroes

Let’s give a round of applause to local folks doing good things

By Will Collette

Over the past 12 years that I’ve written in Progressive Charlestown, I must admit that most of the things I write go after people and organizations who, in my opinion, deserve to be criticized. This article is different as it celebrates a crop of local heroes who have, again in my opinion, made life a little better for all of us.

Earlier this year, I flagged Charlestown’s own gourmet spot, the Sly Fox Den Too, at the junction of Routes 2 and 112, and Chef Sherry Pocknett for winning this year’s James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef Northeast. I’m looking forward to congratulating her again when she gets her first Michelin star.

In this article, I will feature South County Hospital, our intrepid town staff who came up with a way to save lives at the beach, opening the beach to the public and two guys who worked hard to make that happen, including one who has been giving Charlestown some of its best coverage since Cynthia Drummond stopped being our town’s go-to reporter.

Thank you, South County Hospital. 

As a recent patient (read my review HERE), I was not surprised to see that South County is the only hospital in Rhode Island to receive a double-five-star rating from Medicare. They earned this top rating for “Hospital Quality” and “Patient Experience.”

In a separate rating done by US News and World Report, South County was rating as “High Performing” in three categories of orthopedic care: back surgery, hip and knee replacement. This is probably due to their affiliate, Ortho RI.

I can add my amen to both those rankings after my four days as an inpatient, where even the quality and taste of the food was great. South County has been earning top marks for a very long time, a tradition I trace to their long-time legendary administrator, the late Donald Ford. If you must go to the hospital, South County is the place to be.

Using drones to save lives. 

Charlestown's drone drops rescue device, not bombs
Congratulations to Charlestown GIS Coordinator Steve McCandless and the Parks & Recreation lifeguards for deploying rescue drones at each of the town’s beaches. Unlike the Russo-Ukrainian war where drones play a Terminator role, our drones watch for swimmers in trouble, missing kids, debris in the water and sharks.

They can drop a flotation device to a swimmer in distress. The importance of beach safety was recently highlighted after a 15-year old from New London drowned off a Westerly beach. While a system like Charlestown’s would not have saved that boy (he died after hours when no lifeguard was on duty), it can and will save others.

DEM also has a single drone, but according to WPRI, hasn’t figured out how to use it. I don’t know if WPRI intended to make DEM look bad or if DEM did it to themselves.

DEM admitted they: (a) can’t come up with trained operators, (b) don’t have a plan for where to deploy it and (c) admit the obvious problem of only having one drone for all the waters DEM covers. DEM has not been able to hire enough lifeguards either. Hmm, maybe they should buy a few more drones. Or pay lifeguards more.

DEM told WPRI they will study what Charlestown is doing to see if there are lessons they can learn. Duh.

Public use of the beach.

Scott Keeley, beach crusader (photo by Steve Ahlquist)
Congratulations to the RI General Assembly for finally passing legislation that clarifies where the public’s right of beach access begins on Rhode Island’s coast. Though snotty beachfront owners, fake fire districts and the Filippi family are still fighting as well as flouting the law, the tide has turned, if you’ll pardon the pun.

I credit passage of the new law to the years of relentless fighting by Charlestown activist Scott Keeley, whose recent run-in with private security had a happy ending. I also credit South County public radio reporter Alex Nunes for his frequent, in-depth stories on beach access in general and the role played by fake fire districts in worsening the problem.

What missing from this picture from the Central Quonnie
Fire District? Answer: fire trucks cuz they don't have any
Fake fire districts are misnamed organizations because they have no capacity to fight fires. Instead, they operate as upscale homeowners’ associations as well as tax shelters for millions of dollars’ worth of prime coastal land – for which they pay little or no property taxes.

They own lots of beachfront land and are among the most tenacious in trying to keep the public off “their” beaches. Next, the General Assembly should enact legislation stripping fake fire districts of their undeserved tax status. How can you honestly call yourself a “fire district” when you have nothing to do with fires. Except for the barbeque at the tennis club.

Shining a light on Charlestown affordable housing

Alex Nunes
Congratulations again to The Public’s Radio’s Alex Nunes for an in-depth look at Charlestown’s affordable housing crisis

I can’t remember any other major media outlet taking such a detailed look at this Charlestown issue in the 20+ years Cathy and I have lived here.

It’s an open secret that Charlestown’s near complete lack of affordable housing either for sale or rent is largely due to blocking efforts by the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) and their de facto leader, Planning Commissar Ruth Platner. 

Through the CCA’s exclusionary zoning, rapacious land deals and the use of arbitrary standards, “affordable housing” has become anathema in Charlestown.

But maybe that will change now that the CCA is out of power. 

Nunes interviews the pro- and anti- sides of the affordable housing debate, giving ample time to proponents such as Affordable Housing Commission chair Evelyn Smith and commission member Thom Cahir time and space to build the case for affordable housing.

Nunes also gave Ruth Platner the most time and space I’ve ever seen in an article she didn’t write herself to expound on her philosophy of aesthetics, astronomy and what she sees as the common good. 

This is just a summary - this article is a must-read for anyone living in Charlestown.