Another Sad Day for Charlestown

This letter appeared in the Westerly Sun and is reprinted here with permission of the author.

The path to pond on proposed Watchaug Pond Preserve

Doing what is right for the town sometimes takes time, collaboration, character and common sense. Although I am disappointed about the sale of the YMCA land, I am proud of the process and thankful for the volunteers who sought to save the land as open space. When the Town Council denied a request to change the zoning from open space to residential over a year ago, it intended to explore options that had not yet been investigated in depth. This exploration involved due diligence and a number of players.

The Charlestown Land Trust (CLT) submitted a grant to DEM to retain the property as open space, and DEM saw enough value in the property to award funds in a competitive grant process reviewed by the Rhode Island Natural Heritage Preservation Commission. Out of grants submitted from all over the state, the CLT grant was among a select few funded. Pending matching funds from the town and additional monies from private fundraising, the YMCA would have had their money, and the citizens of Charlestown would have had a 27-acre conservation easement with frontage of 700 feet on Watchaug Pond. This option would have allowed passive recreation for citizens 365 days a year, dawn to dusk, and would have provided habitat for 20 species of fish and 98 species of birds, some of which are threatened, endangered, or are species of concern.

The local Charlestown Democrats called foul and lamented the Town Council’s refusal to rezone the property to R-2A. Charlestown resident John Donoghue filed a lawsuit that brought the process to a standstill. At a recent town council meeting, the Town Council realized a referendum might be the only way to resolve the dispute in spite of the fact the Town Charter did not require a public vote.

Late in the game and after declaring for elective office in June, four prospective candidates, Joseph Dolock, John Donoghue, James Mageau and David Mars, began a petition drive to purchase the land for $600,000 in town funds. This proposal added a $200,000 commitment of town funds and failed to acknowledge, as the Town Council and Land Trust did, that the Y land property had buildings that need to be demolished for an estimated cost of $48,000. Their petition had taxpayers assuming nearly double the price that a partnership with the CLT would have cost taxpayers. These actions were more political posturing than an effort to protect Charlestown’s resources, rural character, and taxpayers.

Finally, these four candidates wrote a specious letter to the editor, published in The Sun on July 28, and attributed the loss of the Y land to Ruth Platner, the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) and me. Their letter is another sad day for Charlestown. They said, “By operating behind closed doors and attempting to deceive the people, they were exposed as a fumbling bunch of political neophytes with egg all over their faces.” Platner is a long-time volunteer and elected official and not a neophyte by any definition of the word. Neither the members of the CCA steering committee nor their endorsed candidates have benefited from or participated in backroom deals. CCA-endorsed Town Councilor Dan Slattery recused himself from voting as an abutter.

As a CCA-endorsed candidate, I remain committed to doing what’s best for Charlestown in an open, accountable, ethical, and fiscally responsible manner. Any accusations of deception are simply without merit. Perhaps the egg belongs on other faces?

Thomas B. Gentz

The writer is the president of Charlestown’s Town Council.