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Rhode Island Poised to Take Early Role on High-Speed Rail Study

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Rhode Island Poised to Take Early Role on High-Speed Rail Study


CHARLESTOWN — Years after a proposed “Kenyon to Old Saybrook” high-speed-rail bypass through areas like the historic district of Old Lyme and and Stonington’s Olde Mistick Village sparked public outcry in Connecticut, few realize the pivotal role that a tiny Rhode Island town played in stopping the plan, or at least delaying it until now.

“We found out but it was almost by accident,” said Ruth Platner, a resident of Charlestown, R. I., a town of about 8,000 people. 

Platner said that in early December 2016, she and her husband, Cliff Vanover, happened to be watching television and saw Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed being interviewed about NEC Future – the Federal Railroad Administration’s plan for investment in the Northeast Corridor.

“He was so happy that the plan that they had chosen didn’t miss Providence. We were listening and going, ‘Well, where’s it gonna go?” said Platner, a member of the Charlestown Citizens Alliance, which at the time held a majority of the seats on the local town council.

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Platner said that the current rail corridor has two significant curves in Charlestown. On the bypass map, the new straight track bypasses those two curves – slicing through the 1100-acre Carter Preserve, the Burlingame Wildlife Management Area, the 100-acre Stoney Hill Dairy on Shumankanuc Hill Rd., Narragansett Tribal land and the historic Amos Green Farm, as well as Columbia Heights and Kenyon, which she said are both eligible for listing on the National Register. 

Opposition grew as word spread. On Jan. 10, 2017, more than 400 residents showed up for a presentation by Amtrak in protest of the plan, filling the auditorium at Charlestown Elementary School.

The Town Council wrote to then-Governor Gina Raimondo opposing the plan and asking that Amtrak maintain its current right of way. 

The council sent similar letters to Reed, Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, and Congressman James Langevin. By Jan. 17, their state senator and state representative had signed a letter in opposition to the bypass. On Jan 19, a coalition of members of the town councils of Charlestown and Westerly, members of the Narragansett Tribe, and residents of both towns, met with Gov. Raimondo’s chief of staff and other members of her cabinet, as well as staff from Whitehouse’s office and Langevin’s office. 

A breakthrough came on Jan. 26, 2017, when Gov. Raimondo released a statement that she was in favor of keeping Providence as part of the Northeast Corridor plan, but she would not support the bypass. The day before she had met privately with Charlestown and Westerly town council members and state legislators, the same day a “Drop the Bypass” rally was held at the R.I. State House rotunda.

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On July 12, 2017, the Record of Decision was released. The bypass was shelved, but the Federal Railroad Administration left the route between New Haven and Providence unresolved, calling instead for a New Haven to Providence Capacity Planning Study. When that study would begin, no one was sure.

A seat at the table

Kim Coulter, owner of Stoney Hill Dairy Farm in Charlestown was one of the most passionate protesters of the bypass proposal. The project would have passed directly through her farm, and included the construction of a train tunnel. 

“The tunnel runs right through the property, right through the middle, it wipes us out,” she told CT Examiner. “My barns [would be] no longer standing, it goes right under my home, directly under my home.”

Her family has owned the farm for four generations, she said, and uses sustainable practices like pasture rotation. 

“We raise beef cattle, we have dairy cattle, we raise turkeys, chickens, broiler hens, hogs, and we grow our own feed, our own hay. We do pasture rotation – we’re a sustainable farm. We believe in sustainable agriculture. We compost our manure, we put it back into the field for fertilizer. Do we have to bring in lime and whatnot to you know, correct the pH of course. We do have to do that. But we pride ourselves on being sustainable. We pride ourselves in keeping the animals out of the wetlands,” she said. 

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Coulter said that property owners were not included in the planning process the first time around. This time she is pushing for inclusion in the planning stages of the capacity study – but opposes the idea of revitalizing the bypass. 

“Shouldn’t we have some say before it goes too far, and the taxpayers’ dollars that’s paying for all of these studies? So if it’s going to impact the Carter Preserve, community homes, farmland, tribal land, shouldn’t we be seated at the table to have a voice and to say, hey, wait a minute, we’re spending a lot of money on a certain plan than was already opposed several years ago. Do we want to spend all this money on that same plan that’s going to get the same reaction? Is there a better way to do this? Is there a more efficient way to spend taxpayer dollars to come up with a better study, a better proposal?”

She acknowledged that the Northeast Corridor rail infrastructure needs to be upgraded but said the money could be used in a better way than building the bypass.  

Coulter questioned whether the destruction was justified, adding that once land is taken and developed, it cannot and will not be put back into its pre-construction form. 

“We’re not making land anymore… Once it’s gone, it’s gone. There’s no replacing it. People talk about climate change and they want to protect the environment,” she said. “You can’t have it both ways – either you protect the environment, or you destroy the environment – which is more important to you.” 

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She said she is angry that the bypass is being considered again. 

“This is rearing its ugly head again,” Coulter said. “Just to go through and tear up conservation land, tribal land, farmland and just homes in general, I think is terribly irresponsible, especially in this day and age. I just can’t buy into it. Are we going to be loud again opposing it? Yes, we are.” 

‘We’re in constant communication’ 

Since about 2021, Deb Carney, president of Charlestown’s Town Council, has communicated once a month by email with Peter Alviti, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, who also represents the state on the Northeast Corridor Commission. Included on the email are members of Alviti’s staff, the Charlestown Town Council, State Sen. Elaine Morgan, State Rep. Tina Spears, Kim Coulter, owner of Stoney Hill Farm, and others. 

“We always reiterate that Charlestown has concerns around the New Haven and Providence Capacity Planning Study and our concerns that there might be any resurgence from the old proposal,” Carney told CT Examiner.

Carney said the initial email to Alviti’s office laid out all of the town’s concerns about the original proposal – including building track that would go “through farmlands, tribal lands, conservation land and people’s houses, which Carney said would be a huge detriment to Charlestown. 

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“There was one section of it that was supposed to go underground, which of course would have been a problem and for the extreme cost and not saving any time. None of it and the complete disruption of people’s lives. It just made no sense,” she said. 

Carney said that in the Nov. 19, 2022, email, Pamela Cotter, who is administrator of planning at Rhode Island Department of Transportation, mentioned that RIDOT officials met with Amtrak officials on Nov. 2 “mostly to discuss operational items but the study came up briefly in the discussion.” 

Carney said she asked if it was possible to include a representative from Charlestown next time there was a discussion of the bypass. Carney told CT Examiner that Cotter said she would discuss Charlestown’s request with Amtrak and get back to her. 

“That was in December, so that’s where we are. We’re staying on top of it. We’re in constant communication,” Carney said. 

When asked for a statement on Alviti’s stance on high speed rail and particularly the bypass, Charles St. Martin, chief of public affairs for the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, responded in an email, “Amtrak presented their New Haven to Providence Capacity Study. Discussions are in their initial phases. Amtrak will provide robust public engagement to vet this concept.  RIDOT will help in any way possible to ensure that Rhode Islanders can have significant input throughout this process,” 

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‘It doesn’t make sense’

Platner said that considering the high cost of planning and building the project, the Federal Railroad Administration should be able to find another solution.

“It’s just to get someplace faster – and it’s not a lot faster. It’s not an acceptable trade off, I don’t think,” she said.

Platner said another issue is that the Amtrak’s high-speed train, Acela, does not stop at Kingston – which at three miles away is a station she could bicycle to.

“The nearest stops are in Providence or New Haven. Unless you live near the Acela stop. it doesn’t really make sense because then you have the added time of commuting to that Acela stop. It’s basically to connect the urban areas,” she said. “It’s business travel. Also after the pandemic, everyone now has the ability to have a Zoom meeting. I don’t know why you would travel from New York City or Providence to go to a meeting. I don’t think it’s as necessary as it was.”

She said that the project would “sacrifice all of the wildlife refuges and the Pawcatuck River so that people can get to Providence faster.” 

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“If the outcomes are that bad, and there are other [alternatives], they need to find another solution that’s not so disruptive. And again, the amount of money they’re spending on the planning and what they have spent and all of the engineers involved, they have to come up with a better plan.”

She said that with the original plan, Charlestown Town Council along with Richmond and Hopkinton and a number of other towns received a letter that contained a link to the plan but not a copy of the plan. 

“It was just a letter that said they were increasing services… they just made it sound like they were gonna have wider seats,” she said. “From the letter you couldn’t tell what it was that they were doing. You had no idea and who would have guessed that they would do this?”

She said the construction itself would be disruptive and destructive, probably lasting for years, especially with the excavation and grading required.

Platner said that since 2017 the general public knowledge of the project has dissipated. 

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“What’s happened now is a lot of people have moved away and new people have moved in. I was contacted by someone who bought a home in Kenyon without knowing anything about this, and then wanting to find out about it. So people are moving into the previous path of the train where it was proposed without any knowledge,” she said. “A lot of the knowledge that was here is gone and now there’s new people moving in who don’t know what’s going to happen.”





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Divided Board of Elections backs proposal to let voters drop off mail ballots earlier – Rhode Island Current

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Divided Board of Elections backs proposal to let voters drop off mail ballots earlier – Rhode Island Current


A seemingly innocuous proposal to let voters drop off their mail ballots earlier has divided Rhode Island elections administrators.

The Rhode Island Board of Elections (BOE) on Thursday narrowly backed a proposal to let voters deposit ballots in state-certified, secure drop boxes 35 days prior to Election Day. The 3-2 vote serves as a recommendation, requiring legislation and approval by the Rhode Island General Assembly, to amend existing law, which says drop boxes stationed outside city and town halls must stay locked until 20 days prior to an election. 

The vote came after nearly an hour of discussion and debate, clouded with questions over logistics, and the specter of public doubt over election integrity. 

Chair Jennie Johnson, along with members David Sholes and Marcela Betancur, supported the earlier opening. Board members Randy Jackvony and Michael Connors opposed the earlier opening date. 

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Proponents including the Rhode Island Department of State, local boards of canvassers and the Rhode Island Town and City Clerks’ Association backed the change as a way to make voting easier and more convenient for voters eager to exercise their civic duty.

“Voters love to use the drop box,” said Kathy Placencia, elections director for the Department of State. 

An earlier opening date also allows drop boxes to be used for voter registration forms, which are due 30 days before an election. Typically, city and town halls have to open their offices on the Sunday registration deadline to accept registration forms from stragglers. 

But some BOE members hesitated, concerned about confusion created by combining registration forms and mail ballots in the same collection box. Not to be discounted: public trust in election safety and security, which has taken a hit nationwide.

“There is a lot of distrust in elections around mail ballots already,” said Michael Connors, a board member who also serves on the three-member legislative subcommittee. The subcommittee on Feb. 20 voted 2-1 not to support a change in drop box opening dates. 

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Even Miguel Nunez, BOE deputy director (who will take the helm as executive director next week), acknowledged the solution was imperfect.

Identical legislation was submitted last year on behalf of the state elections board, and approved by both chambers, but was pulled at the eleventh hour due to conflicts with local special elections. 

There is a lot of distrust in elections around mail ballots already.

– Michael Connors, a Board of Elections member who opposed to the earlier start for opening drop boxes

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Existing state law requires local boards of canvassers to lock drop boxes at 8 p.m. on Election Day, the same time polls closed. When a special election is held a month before a regular state or federal election, the earlier drop box opening might overlap with a time when the drop box has to be locked for a local election.

Nunez presented BOE members with a few options to minimize this conflict. They included getting rid of the requirement that local elections administrators lock the drop box when polls close. Or keeping the 8 p.m. locking time but reopening the drop box the next morning. A third option: opening drop boxes 30 or 32 days prior to the election, rather than 35.

Board member Sholes also suggested another hack to assuage concerns about ballot confusion: color-coded ballots to make it easier for local election workers to differentiate between special, local races and state or federal ones.

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Nick Lima, Cranston elections director, and Kathy Placencia, the elections director for the Rhode Island Department of State, address the Rhode Island Board of Elections at its meeting on Feb. 22, 2024. (Nancy Lavin/Rhode Island Current)

‘Can of worms’

But the multitude of Band-Aid fixes suggested to Jackvony that perhaps the best solution was no change at all.

“I think we’re opening up a can of worms,” Jackvony said. “We’re very concerned about giving people a positive sense of the integrity of elections. I think we’re going in the wrong direction with something like this.”

“Very few” mail ballot applications get sent out by the Secretary of State’s office 35 days before an election, Nunez said.

But the handful of voters who want to turn in mail ballots early would benefit by opening up the drop boxes, which are already paid for, under surveillance, and otherwise sitting empty, said Nick Lima, Cranston elections director and chairperson for the Rhode Island Town and City Clerks’ Association Elections Committee.

Lima has heard from a few Cranston voters who already received their mail ballots for the upcoming April 2 presidential preference primary but can’t drop off their ballots in the drop boxes until March 13, based on the 20-day opening date.

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“That voter will show up at City Hall at 4:35 p.m. today with that mail ballot in-hand and have nowhere to drop it,” Lima said.

Meanwhile, the city of Cranston is spending $2,000 across its four special elections this year to pay its staff to sit in City Hall on the Sunday when voter registration forms are due, Lima said. That cost could be eliminated if voters could drop their registration paperwork in a secure container.

“It’s a large expense for us, and it really isn’t a necessity,” said Lima, adding he “never” sees city voters dropping off registration forms on that final Sunday deadline. 

The proposed changes in drop box openings was one of 25 election-related bills considered by the BOE Thursday, ranging from repealing constitutional requirements for 30-day residency prior to voting, to the maximum number of voters a single polling place can serve. 

The drop box legislation has not been introduced yet, but must be submitted by Feb. 29 to be considered by the General Assembly. 

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Board members Diane Mederos and Louis DeSimone did not attend the meeting.

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When Will RI See The Full Snow ‘Micromoon’ (And What Is That, Anyway)?

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When Will RI See The Full Snow ‘Micromoon’ (And What Is That, Anyway)?


RHODE ISLAND — The last full moon of winter, the full snow moon on Saturday, is also a “micromoon,” though Rhode Island sky gazers may not notice the subtleties that make it different.

A micromoon is a full moon that occurs when the moon is farthest away from Earth, or at apogee. It appears about 14 percent smaller and 30 percent dimmer than usual.

It’s the opposite of the more commonly understood supermoon — that is, a full moon that appears slightly larger and brighter than usual as it makes its closest approach to Earth in its elliptical orbit, called perigee, according to NASA. To see a supermoon, you’ll have to wait until the blue moon in August, the first of four consecutive supermoons.

On Saturday, the full snow micromoon rises at 5:43 p.m. in Rhode Island. The snow moon will appear full Friday and Sunday nights, too.

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The February full moon is often called the snow moon for obvious reasons, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which sites National Weather Service data showing February, on average, is the nation’s snowiest month.

Native Americans gave names to each month’s moon to keep track of the season, but some of the names also come from Colonial American and European cultures.

Other names given to the February moon are connected to animals, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. The Cree traditionally called it the bald eagle or simply eagle moon, the Ojibwe called it the bear moon, the Tlinget called it the black bear moon, the Dakota called it the raccoon moon, certain Algonquin peoples called it the groundhog moon, and the Haida called it the goose moon.

For skywatchers planning their calendars, meteor showers resume until April. The Lyrids meteor shower runs his show runs from April 16-29, peaking overnight on April 22-23. A full moon at the peak could make this show a wash. The Lyrids produce about 18 meteors an hour at the peak, but they’re known for bright dust trails that last for several seconds.

The big event that month is the 2024 Great American Solar Eclipse. Something like 31 million U.S. residents live in places that will see daytime darkness, with only our yellow star’s spiky corona visible as the moon passes between it and Earth.

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Another 1 million to 4 million people will make a pilgrimage to states in the path of totality — Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.



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Defense once again fails Rhode Island basketball in home loss to A-10 contender Richmond

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Defense once again fails Rhode Island basketball in home loss to A-10 contender Richmond


SOUTH KINGSTOWN — The rising tension in the Ryan Center was akin to an elastic being stretched.

Its inevitable snapping came late in the second half Wednesday night, with Richmond pushing the University of Rhode Island out of reach.

The men’s basketball contender in the Atlantic 10 standings eventually took command against a middler. It’s a script that’s played out multiple times against the Rams in this dwindling season.

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Jordan King caught fire from the field while the Spiders asserted themselves. His perimeter touch was the key in this 85-77 victory, as the hosts dropped their third straight.

Richmond used a 9-0 run that took barely a minute to assume command. What was a 62-57 lead swelled to 14 points with 6:44 to play, and there was no real way back for URI. The Rams pulled within two possessions twice inside the final 1:29 but came no closer.

“It’s not all on them,” URI coach Archie Miller said. “The coach has to sit here and look himself in the mirror and say, ‘Where did you let this group down?’ I haven’t been able to connect with this group — the ability to be able to make us better defensively.

“It’s a first.”

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It was the sixth time this season URI has allowed at least an adjusted 1.20 points per possession. The Rams surrender 1.11 on the season – that’s 277th nationally and the worst performance to date among Miller’s 12 seasons at Dayton, Indiana and here. The Spiders shot 55%, committed just nine turnovers and put five players in double figures while keeping pace with Loyola Chicago atop the league standings.

“If you’re at home and the opponent comes into your building and gets 85 points, you’ve got no chance,” Miller said. “In your building, when the opponent can come in and get 85, you better be real good to get 86.

“It’s hard to get 86. Where we’re at, the evolution of our program, this is new to me.”

Luis Kortright’s conventional three-point play with 7:57 left had URI within striking distance. The Spiders took off from there behind King, who followed a layup with a pullup 3-pointer from the left wing. The Rams used a timeout with 7:19 to play that didn’t stop the momentum – Isaiah Bigelow and Dji Bailey both scored at the rim to make it a 71-57 game.

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“I thought they executed pretty well offensively tonight,” Miller said. “Defensively it’s just not college basketball standard that I’m used to. There’s nowhere to go. Got to wake back up tomorrow. Got to get to work.”

The Ramblers controlled the glass while easing past URI here on Sunday – it was a different story through the opening 20 minutes against Richmond. The Rams owned a 20-13 advantage on the boards, including nine offensive rebounds. Those extra opportunities led to an 11-5 edge on second-chance points.

“We played well enough to beat Richmond on offense tonight,” Miller said. “We just can’t guard anyone. We couldn’t at any point through the 40 minutes get consistent stops.”

URI also forced five first-half turnovers – a modest number by normal standards, but noteworthy against the Spiders. They entered as the most sure-handed offensive team in the nation, giving the ball away on just 12.2% of possessions. The Rams built an 11-1 scoring margin off those mistakes to help take the halftime lead.

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“I wouldn’t say in this game our guys didn’t compete and play to win,” Miller said. “I thought we played a good team. I thought we played sharp at times on offense – that helped us.”

King netted 20 of his game-high 25 points in the second half and was 4-for-5 from 3-point range. He added seven assists against just one turnover in 38 minutes. Bigelow finished with 14 points and Bailey added 13 for Richmond (19-7, 11-2 Atlantic 10), which collected its sixth straight win in the series.

“They didn’t stop scoring all game,” Miller said. “Consistently, they were scoring. If we weren’t going to be able to get stops at some point, the first team that had a lull on offense was going to kind of go down.”

David Fuchs netted 17 of his career-high 23 points in the first half for URI (11-15, 5-8), which is on a second three-game losing streak in league play. Fuchs added 12 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season. Kortright finished with 11 and a team-high five assists.

“If you get 23 and 12 as a freshman in February in this league you’re a good player,” Miller said. “At the end of the day, what we’re asking him to do and how we’re asking him to do it, you hope he has some (players) around him who can help.”

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bkoch@providencejournal.com

On X: @BillKoch25

RICHMOND (85): Bigelow 5-9 2-2 14, Quinn 3-6 1-2 7, Bailey 6-8 1-5 13, Hunt 3-6 3-5 10, King 9-21 2-2 25, Harris 2-3 0-0 5, Walz 5-6 0-0 10, Tyne 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 33-60 10-18 85. RHODE ISLAND (77): Fuchs 9-12 4-6 23, Green 4-13 3-3 12, House 5-11 0-1 13, Kortright 3-9 3-3 11, Weston 1-4 2-3 4, Montgomery 2-4 0-0 5, Wright 0-1 0-0 0, Estevez 1-3 0-0 3, Brown 2-2 2-2 6. Totals 27-59 14-18 77.

Halftime_Rhode Island 42-40. 3-Point Goals_Richmond 9-21 (King 5-10, Bigelow 2-5, Harris 1-1, Hunt 1-3, Tyne 0-1, Walz 0-1), Rhode Island 9-19 (House 3-5, Kortright 2-4, Estevez 1-1, Fuchs 1-1, Montgomery 1-1, Green 1-6, Weston 0-1). Rebounds_Richmond 30 (Bailey 6), Rhode Island 29 (Fuchs 12). Assists_Richmond 21 (Quinn, King 7), Rhode Island 17 (Kortright 5). Total Fouls_Richmond 17, Rhode Island 17.



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