Virginia Lee: Major achievements of the Town of Charlestown in 2017
Each year at this time The Westerly Sun invites local leaders to share highlights of the past year. The following response to this request appeared in The Sun and is reprinted here with permission of the author Virginia Lee. Ms. Lee is President of the Charlestown Town Council.
What an extraordinary year in Charlestown! On top of managing town government well, funding our schools and keeping taxes low, we rallied to stop two unexpected major projects. Citizens showed up, stood up, spoke up – confirming how much we care for our rural, beautiful town and the people who live here. Together we:
Stopped the railroad bypass. A January hearing overflowed with citizens saying “No” to the bypass. Charlestown prepared a summary of negative impacts that we presented, along with our neighboring towns, to state agencies, the governor’s staff and US congressional offices. South County Legislators signed a letter of objection, Charlestown organized a rally at the statehouse, the Governor announced her formal opposition to the bypass, our Congressmen supported her decision and the bypass was removed from the federal plan in July. With improved cooperation with the Narragansett Indian Tribe attending every event, we reaffirmed what we value most about our town and stopped the railroad in its tracks.
Safeguarded our drinking water. As soon as we learned that Invenergy had arranged for supplemental water to be trucked away from our sole source drinking water aquifer to their proposed power plant in Burrillville, we hired lawyers and experts and the Energy Facility Siting Board postponed their deliberations to hold a public hearing in Charlestown. Again citizens filled the room, said “No” and stood up for critical community resources. The town will testify in the formal hearings next year (2018).
Promoted renewable energy. Because many residents committed to reduced home electric consumption, National Grid awarded Charlestown $5000 as a RI Energy Champion. We initiated “Solarize Charlestown”, a new town/state partnership and 8% of our year-round residents signed up for assessments, we are already seeing more roofs in town with solar panels. This initiative also created more jobs for local businesses.
Reduced vulnerability to natural hazards. The state and federal government approved our Hazard Mitigation Plan, giving Charlestown the highest possible ranking. Consequently the cost of insurance for many households will be reduced.
Improved management of the Salt Ponds. An updated Harbor Management Plan was adopted for salt ponds in Charlestown. A cooperative project brought in $3.2 million of federal funding to dredge the Ninigret Pond breachway.
Provided affordable housing. After 7 years of coordinated effort, “ChurchWoods” opened, offering 24 new affordable homes for seniors.
Protected public health. Because Charlestown provided CPR instruction, public access defibrillators, and protocols for first responders and area hospitals to improve survival from cardiac arrest, DOH designated us one of 14 HEARTSafe RI communities.
Expanded recreation. Columbia Heights Playground was improved. In Ninigret Park, the tennis and basketball courts were fixed, improvements made to the Community Center, and a new multi-use trail installed. New trails were opened through conservation lands.
Our efforts are only as effective as the dedication of staff, committee members and volunteers who serve the town in so many ways – thank you immensely!