Why Didn’t We (or the FRA) Know About Impacts To Charlestown During Draft EIS Stage?

The following letter was submitted to NEC Future as a request for an extension to the comment period on the Tier 1 Final EIS and is shared with us here by the author Ruth Platner. Ruth Platner is Chair of the Charlestown Planning Commission.

No one in the town of Charlestown, the government or the citizens, knew of the plan to build new rail lines and structures in our town until the Charlestown Citizens Alliance released their first post on this issue on December 18 2016. Some CCA members found out by chance on December 16 when they saw a Channel 12 News story interviewing US Senator Jack Reed on this issue and then started digging into the EIS documents.

In an interview this week with Channel 12 News, The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) says it’s our own fault that we didn’t know. They say the plans to construct the “Saybrook to Kenyon Bypass” have been public since 2014 and that the FRA even held a public comment forum in Providence in December 2015, and officials held an open comment period from November 2015 to February 2016 during which they received roughly 3,200 comments. Of course none of those comments were from Charlestown and none of them mentioned Charlestown.

The entire NEC Future website, including the Draft EIS and Final EIS and all other documents including all comments on the Draft EIS only include 3 references to Charlestown. These are:

  • Addresses for the Narragansett Tribe in Charlestown, and Charlestown Town Hall
  • A comment on the plan in the form of a letter from RI Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission which includes a CC to John Brown at his Charlestown address, but otherwise makes no mention of Charlestown.
  • The Draft EIS and Final EIS (section contains this one string that mentions Charlestown: “The existing NEC is usually at-grade or on embankment through Westerly, Hopkinton, Charlestown, and Richmond in southern Washington County, shifting northeast near South Kingston”

There isn’t even such a place as “South Kingston”! The train station in South Kingstown is “West Kingston”, which is a place in the town of South Kingstown. It appears that there is no mention of South Kingstown at all even though the Great Swamp Management Area that is in South Kingstown will have an additional rail line and wetlands filled.

In the Draft and Final EIS there is only that one mention of Charlestown, and it describes the existing condition that the rail lines pass through our town. Charlestown is never mentioned again. Not only did we not know that Charlestown is impacted by the FRA plan, it appears the FRA doesn’t know that either!

Whenever our area is mentioned in FRA documents it is described as Kenyon, RI. Kenyon is a place name, not a municipality. There isn’t a post office in Kenyon anymore. Kenyon Mill is there and some historic homes. “Kenyon” is in both Charlestown and Richmond, it certainly has an important history, but it isn’t the name of our town.

To assist my work on the Charlestown Planning Commission, I use Google Alerts to notify me of any news story, new web page, or post that includes anything about Charlestown. I’ve had these alerts set up since long before 2012 when FRA started the scoping process for the EIS. I have them just for a situation like this where an agency, or company, or another town posts something about Charlestown that we don’t get noticed for. Not everything gets indexed by Google, but I get an email from Google anytime something does. For example I get an email every time a house in Charlestown gets added to a Realtor website. I also get alerts any time Google picks up a news story for Charlestown. In the last week there have been news articles from all over the country about the Narraganset Tribe landing in my inbox. There were not any Google alerts for meetings in Providence about new rail lines in Charlestown, no Press Release or legal advertisement that included Charlestown on this issue. As the Chair of the Planning Commission in an impacted town I also didn’t get an invitation to these meetings. Maybe the notice was sent to the “Town of Kenyon”.

There were many news stories during the Draft EIS time period in Connecticut papers. If any of those had mentioned Charlestown, my Google alert would have picked them up. I get alerts when the Hartford Courant, New London Day, or other Connecticut paper mentions Charlestown. But unfortunately all those stories were talking about the “Saybrook to Kenyon Bypass”.

For the Federal Railroad Administration to place fault with us for their failure to include Charlestown in their documents is unfair, but what they think of us really isn’t relevant. What is important and truly unfair is that we lost our opportunity to comment on the draft EIS. Not only were we not able to influence the path of the rail lines, but the FRA lost the opportunity to learn from us as well. We could have told them that the Wood Pawcatuck River is nominated by Congress as a Wild and Scenic River, that their data only included some of the public open space areas, and other glaring omissions that we, who know our town, can easily see.

For these reasons the FRA should extend the comment period to at least April 1 to give Charlestown an opportunity to do a full review of the plan and to provide the quality of data that the FRA needs to do an acceptable EIS.

Ruth Platner

Ruth is the current Chair of the Charlestown Planning Commission and has been involved in land use issues in Charlestown for over 20 years.
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