The High Cost of Not Building a Concrete Plant

Projo has an article talking about the problems with finding funds to cover the costs of buying out Cullion to keep the concrete plant from being built. From the Projo:

CRANSTON  The city’s plan to buy the land on which a company had wanted to open a concrete-batching plant is slowly moving forward, but city taxpayers might be paying a bigger share of the $1.9 million price than first thought.

It turns out that some $700,000 in federal housing money — the last financing piece that city officials announced last year as they moved to buy the site — is not going to help after all.

The reason: Much of the 17.7-acre property owned by Cullion Concrete Corp., of South Kingstown, lies in a floodplain, which presents a serious problem for anyone looking to build housing, let alone government-subsidized affordable housing, city officials said this week.

Like Emilio says, the good news is that there is “nothing going on over there.” That’s as it should be. The plan to build anything on that land, particularly an industrial site, were ill-conceived to say the least. But the cost to fix this problem could not have come at a worse time — and possibly could have been prevented all together if the Laffey administration hadn’t given permission to Cullion in the first place.

Open Space Funding for Cranston

On the docket for Tuesday night’s Cranston City Council Meeting (the Council is meeting on Tuesday this month due to the Monday holiday), is an Open Space & Development/Restoration Bond Referendum Request that is co-sponsored by Council Vice-President McFarland and Councilman Navarro. Council Members McFarland and Navarro are sponsoring this resolution and hope to get approval from the Council to request the General Assembly to place this bond referendum on November’s ballot.

If approved, the bond would provide funding for Open Space Development and/or Restoration projects in each of the City’s 6 Wards and would assist in accomplishing the goals that are proposed in the updated draft of the Comprehensive Plan.

At the very least, it will be interesting to learn the Council Members’ views on funding for Open Space and preserving natural resources throughout our City. The meeting is at 7pm in Council Chambers.

Slow Start to Cranston’s Comp Plan Update Process

Last night was the first public workshop to discuss the updated draft of the 1992 Comprehensive Plan. The good news is that Director of Planning, Peter Lapolla, said that he has never been to a Comp Plan update workshop with more than 15 people; I estimated that there were at least 40 people in attendance last night. The buzz among those in attendance was that they had not seen the one article advertising the meeting in May 9’s ProJo but had learned about it through emails sent by SCOS, CCRZD and Friends of the Pawtuxet.

There was no agenda for the workshop, which Mr. Lapolla acknowledged at the beginning of the evening, and he plans on having a format for the subsequent workshops. Hopefully the future workshops will have a new location and format that are conducive to promoting dialogue among the attendees and Planning Department. Prior to beginning the discussion of the Housing Element, Mr. Lapolla gave some background on the State Comprehensive Plan process and the status of Cranston’s 1992 Comprehensive Plan and this update of it.

Cranston’s 1992 Comp Plan was adopted by the Planning Commission and City Council, but was rejected by the State of RI due to a conflict between the City and the State regarding the amount of control Cranston could exert over the development of the Howard Complex/State Prison land. This sparked a lengthy conversation, which I’ll try my best to summarize.

1. By 1988 State Law (RIGL 45-22.2), municipalities are required to prepare and adopt a Comprehensive Plan, which is then approved by the state if the State finds the plan is consistent with the guidelines it set

2. If, like Cranston’s 1992 Plan, the State rejects the Plan, but the municipality adopts it, then it has local force of law. (Translation: Since the City had adopted it, the plan became enforceable law in Cranston even though it was never recognized at the state level). There are no sanctions taken by the State if a municipality does not have their Comp Plan approved at the state level.

3. The State requires that Comp Plans be updated every 5 years, however the last Comp Plan approved by the City of Cranston dates to 1992. There are no sanctions taken by the State if this 5-year forecast is not followed.

4. As those involved with the Cullion land dispute are aware, the zoning in a City is supposed to be changed to become compatible with what the Comprehensive Plan calls for, but this again, has not been enforced. (That also sparked conversation about the role of the zoning board).

The goal of last night’s session was to have public discussion on the first 3 elements of the updated draft of the Comprehensive Plan: Housing, Natural Resources and Open Space/Recreation. The Housing element was discussed, although not in entirety, until the meeting was adjourned around 9:45pm. The workshops will each focus on specific elements of the Comprehensive Plan and the future Land Use Plan will be discussed lastly. THAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE PLAN, IN REGARDS TO PROTECTING OUR NATURAL RESOURCES AND MAINTAINING THE QUALITY OF LIFE OF CRANSTON RESIDENTS!!!!

Although the meeting was extremely long and the majority of the attendees did not remain through its entirety, residents need to continue to attend these workshops and offer feedback. The current draft also includes some feedback from workshops and surveys from 2004-2005. The final draft of the Comprehensive Plan Update will need approval from the Planning Commission and City Council, which will require public hearings. The Planning Department will be posting the updated elements of the Comprehensive Plan for all to review in the upcoming weeks, as well as feedback that they receive, I will share that link once it is sent out.

I feel that the most important thing is to find out is how much of the plan has already been decided or “set in stone� and how much it can be influenced not only by residents, but also by our elected officials. We need to continue to work together to protect our neighborhoods and the future of the City.

The Fine Art of Blogging in Rhode Island

Ian Donnis does us all proud with an in-depth look at Rhode Island’s blogs:

Matt Jerzyk launched his Rhode Island’s Future blog in January 2005 because, after having worked locally in community- and union-organizing, “I saw first-hand how difficult it was to pene-trate the media cabal with progressive stories of hope and change.� After two months of writing about the then-upcoming 2006 US Senate race between Lincoln Chafee and Sheldon Whitehouse, the blog’s audience grew from a few dozen people to a few hundred.

More than three years later, Rhode Island’s Future is established as a must-read for political types, activists, reporters, and others — including the conservatives who welcome opportunities to scorn the blog’s unapologetically liberal bent — and the site claims 67,000 unique visitors, and 250,000 page views, a month.

Jerzyk, 31, who is about to graduate from Roger Williams University Law School (disclosure: he’s a friend of mine and an occasional Phoenix contributor), is now looking to sell Rhode Island’s Future, to a person or entity that, he hopes, will maintain its character and identity.

Borrowing a phrase from the title of a book by two preeminent liberal bloggers, Markos Moulitsas Zuniga and Jerome Armstrong, Jerzyk takes some valedictory satisfaction in how bloggers have “used a new and powerful medium and ‘crashed the gates’ to ensure that information — the most important ingredient in a democracy — would be available to anyone who wanted to write, read, or debate.�

Across the ideological aisle at Anchor Rising, which has emerged as Rhode Island’s leading conservative blog since it debuted in late 2004, a handful of like-minded individuals were motivated by a similar desire to provide a broader and more consequential forum for their ideas and philosophy.

In one example of how it has made an impact, Justin Katz, a 32-year-old carpenter who wields a formidable intellect as Anchor Rising’s most frequent contributor, points to Providence Journal op-ed columnist Ed Achorn’s use of his tart description — “the Economic Death and Dismemberment Act� — for a budget plan, the Economic Growth and Fairness Act, put forward by some liberal Smith Hill Democrats. “A couple of weeks later, [Achorn] e-mailed to ask whether I’d coined it, because he found it to be an audience-pleaser in speeches,� says Katz, via e-mail (as the interviews with other bloggers were conducted for this story).

“More generally, one gets the feeling of being part of the public debate,� Katz adds, such as when something written by one of Anchor Rising’s contributors, about healthcare, human-service spending, step increases for teachers, or tax and migration trends, “precedes a change of tack on the other side. In other words, bloggers of modest influence can still disprove talking points, and if the right people are reading, then those talking points have been successfully exploded.�

Seeded and inspired in part by this lefty-righty duo, the Rhode Island blogosphere has expanded and grown more sophisticated in recent years, offering a new layer of media (and of media criticism) at a time when metro dailies such as the ProJo, bedeviled by an industry-wide collapse of newspaper advertising, offer a smaller, less expansive scope of coverage than in the past.

“This is such an important part of community,� says Kiersten Marek, a liberal social worker who blogs in Cranston. “When something concerns you in life and you put out a call, you want a response. This is, in effect, what I do on my blog. It concerned me that a concrete plant was suddenly being built in our vicinity without neighbors being informed, so I started to talk about it on my blog. A community group rose up to fight it and I joined that group. Members of that group used Kmareka to discuss news about the concrete plant, to strategize on how to deal with the problem, to publicize actions and events, and to support one another’s efforts. You just can’t get that from the newspaper or from TV. That’s why blogs are revolutionary.�

Perhaps, but considering how the best-read Rhode Island blogs — including my own Not for Nothing — tend to get roughly 2000 visitors a day, does this situation speak more to the splintering of a common media with broad appeal? And can blogs truly take up some of the slack being yielded by newspapers, or do they represent a new era of limited, self-selecting audi-ences reading sources that mostly reinforce their pre-existing views and biases?
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There is much more to this story, so read on.

Kmareka’s Top Hits of 2007

Some topics covered on Kmareka have garnered more attention and seem to be part of a larger change in communication sweeping the world. Online communication, activism, and blogging are steadily gaining credibility and beginning to influence public policy and the direction of social change. People are coming to understand local, national, and global issues in different ways by reading about them and discussing them online where they can cite sources and bring better information into the discussion.

There is a way in which the “collective unconscious” — as defined as the collective reservoir of human experience, knowledge, and ideas — is stumbling toward progress in the many blogs of significance online. It is not just coincidence that more discussion of medicating children is taking place in the mainstream media. Nor is it just coincidence that America is now more aware of its growing discontent with the movement conservatives who have governed our country for the past 7 years. At Kmareka, we strive to be part of the collective unconscious on these issues in that we are helping to bring them out of the realm of the repressed and into the light of day where they can be examined and acted upon. In bringing these issues into the open, we are helping in the collective effort to actualize.

As technology and communication online evolve, we also begin to experience more of each other emotionally online. I now feel connected to many people whom I’ve never seen in the flesh — not because they are famous, but because they bring their distinctive voices and ideas, from the absurd to the angry to the funny to the grieved, to Kmareka. One of our commenters, Donald Wolberg, is a paleontologist with a keen voice for politics, and a mind full of science and history. He first showed up on Kmareka to argue about climate change and has since returned to discuss issues as diverse as medicating children and the similarities of Dick Cheney to an overfed game pheasant. When he emailed me about a difficult loss this past year, I felt a deep sorrow for him. Somehow now we are connected, he and I, although I’ve never met him.

I’ve also gotten to know members of my real community better through blogging. By attending community events related to health, education and the environment, I have met many local elected officials and have also become a familiar face to our U.S. Senate delegation. So while the money for blogging is not big (and most of it is shared with my co-bloggers) the pay-off in terms of learning, and being part of an engaging world, is huge.

So, here’s to 2008 and here’s to the hits, and may they keep on coming…

Kiersten’s Top Hits:

Medicating Children: The Risks We are Taking: This post looks at the increasing use of psychiatric medication for children and provides links to scientific studies on the health risks associated witht he major categories of psychiatric drugs. As a practitioner in the field of adolescent psychiatry, I see teenagers being put on medications every day. I continue to struggle with fears that overmedicating is a growing trend. However, I am also congnizant that some adolescents respond well to medication as part of their treatment plan. I believe we should all continue to weigh the short-term positives of using psychiatric medication on children against concerns for long-term deleterious effects such as increased weight gain, diabetes, and tardive dyskinesia. If you are pondering these questions as a parent, a practitioner, or a consumer, you can begin your research by reading some of the 46 posts in our Medicating Children category.

Open Space: Our blog posts on the proposed development of Mulligan’s Island into a big-box shopping plaza were some of our most commented-on, and helped identify a community of local activists who convinced Churchill & Banks to take their proposal elsewhere. The first post I did on the topic, which includes some of my personal history, received 67 comments, while another post on the topic, which got off-topic into the still-mysterious identity of “Jesse of Cranston,” received 113 comments.

The History of The Concrete Plant: We have done 41 posts on the concrete plant which is now nearing a settlement in favor of the residents. From powerful letters written by residents to a post connecting the concrete plant controversy to larger issues of citizen activism in a culture that encourages apathy, the posts in the “Cranston Concrete Plant” category are a testament to the way that online discussion helps to bolster community involvement. The costs of this controversy are good reason to investigate the way the Cullion permit was processed and revise zoning procedures so that the community is better informed and protected from industrial encroachment.

David’s Top Hits

Will I Spend Eternity in Hell? Wherein David ponders the nature of the physical and spiritual universes and the likelihood of his burning in hell because he is not a Christian. You can cast your vote for or against his eternal damnation.

The Sound of Neglect: This is a poem by David which he later read at a service on the theme of political action held by the Unitarian Society of Northampton.

Letter to a Fallen Soldier: David pays tribute to the sacrifices made by our country’s soldiers and places their loss in the larger context of the need for political leadership that can bring more peace and justice to the world.

Nancy’s Top Hits

Hummers for Sick Children: Nancy has some funny, insightful, and provocative things to say about Hummers making their way into hospitals as the vehicle of choice for the ride to the surgery room. Many Hummer devotees came by to share their own views.

Bill O’Reilly Needs to Get Out More: This post got picked up by Media Matters to be included in their page of posts about Bill O’Reilly’s strange comments after visiting a Harlem diner.

Desperately Selling a Kidney: This post attracted some intense discussion (including a rebuttal from the spouse of an organ donor) about the medical ethics of organ donation.

Proposed Settlement with Cullion Concrete

Mayor Michael Napolitano will be holding a press conference today at 11:45 am at Cranston City Hall to announce a proposed settlement to end the Cullion concrete plant controversy that has been going on in Cranston for over a year. Cranston Citizens for Responsible Zoning and Development (CCRZD) is asking its members to attend the press conference and bring their “Stop the Concrete Plant” signs. They stated in an email that they are not for or against the proposed settlement, since they were not included in the discussions.

We will provide an update after the press conference with more information about the proposed settlement.

UPDATE: The projo article provided the following details:

In October, The Providence Journal reported that the Pawtuxet River Authority & Watershed Council, a state-chartered agency that serves as steward of the river, has targeted the land as the centerpiece for a sprawling waterside park.

The concept has won broad support from the mayor, City Council and the city’s delegation to the General Assembly.

With that in mind, Napolitano said yesterday that he would press the state and federal governments for funding to cover at least a portion of the $1.9-million settlement.

Failing that, the mayor said he will seek approval from the Democratic-dominated City Council for a city bond to be paid off by the taxpayers.

Council President Aram G. Garabedian, a Democrat and staunch opponent of the plant, has voiced deep reservations in recent months about paying Cullion anything for the land.

But he declined to comment last night, saying he wanted to review the details of the agreement first.

Sounds like there will be due diligence on this from the city council. Congratulations to the residents of Eden Park who fought to protect their neighborhood. Your work and perseverence paid off.

UPDATE #2: CCRZD has provided this statement from spokesman Howie Barte:

CCRZD Expresses Initial Unease To Mayor Napolitano’s Proposed “Settlement” With Cullion Over Cranston Concrete Plant

Cranston Mayor Michael Napolitano today informed the Cranston Citizens for Responsible Zoning & Development (CCRZD) regarding the disputed concrete plant in Cranston, “I settled the deal�.

CCRZD’s initial reaction is that $1.9 million offer by the Mayor to buy out Cullion is probably too high. It must be noted that this Mayor has cost the taxpayers a tremendous amount of taxpayer dollars because he refused to investigate and pull the permit from the beginning when it would have most likely been much cheaper to do so. It’s a known fact that a municipality under Rhode Island Law is only liable up to a $100,000 cap.

CCRZD continues to watch closely as developments occur. A continued area of concern not yet addressed is that assurance have yet to be issued guaranteeing that this land will be maintained in accordance the 1992 Comprehensive Plan which was has been in affect, but ignored, for fifteen years. And, of course, CCRZD has yet to see the detailed of the purported deal. So far, it seems more questions have been raised than answers provided.

UPDATE #3: Activist and resident Suzanne Arena sent a letter to the Cranston City Council expressing concern about the size of the settlement for Cullion. A part of her letter reads as follows:

I am appealing to you because $1.9 million is on the high side. We have determined the cost of land to be $240,000 with an assessed value of approximately $310,000 and an estimated fair market value of $700,000 in the extreme. Adding a conservative $100,000 for legal fee concessions leaves $1.1 million. What does number this entail? We fully expected that Cullion would take back the equipment so that this would not become part of the settlement.

Further, I expect that there would be an Environmental Site Assessment as part of the agreement and in the eventuality that hazardous waste is discovered, I would expect that the cost of removal would be borne by the owner, Cullion / Karleetor. In order to establish due diligence, another appraisal by City Council should be obtained.

If the fair market value of the property is determined to be substantially higher than the assessed value of the property, there should be a determination with respect to the City’s Right of Recourse against the seller for back taxes based on the current $300,000 assessment.

Ms. Arena received a response from Council member Jeff Barone, which is as follows:


First, I must say, we finally agree on something. The only difference is that the “deal” is about $1.8m too high. The city should just give Cullion $100,000.00 that was expended prior to our stop order. What ever monies they have expended after that point should not be the responsibility of the city.

You and you association feel that you should have been part of the negotiation of this “deal”. The City Council was not even part of it, what makes you think you should be?

By the way, your Mayor told the press before the Council of this deal, why do you think he’ll tell you first.

This is maybe the worst “deal” he has ever come up with. More than the Valley settlement or the Providence Water settlement. I’ll bet you didn’t know about those.

Where does he think he is going to get the money to pay for this. I know where, you the taxpayer. Don’t forget, we have a $2.5m settlement with Valley, a $1.5m settlement with Providence, a possible $4m Carullo action and now this. That will all come out of the Rainy day fund. He said he will get state aid, they are not going to give Cranston $1.9 million for 20.2 acres of flood land. He will tell you that but let’s get real.

When he goes to knock on doors to get re-elected, his new “promise ” will be that he will continue to support the people. Wait for next year’s tax increase.

All the other costs you mentioned earlier will be absorbed by the city. I hope you and your association let him know how you feel.


Councilman Barone

Howie Barte to Publicize Concrete Plant Fiasco

Here’s the latest for Cranston Citizens for Responsible Zoning and Development:


CRANSTON, RI: Cranston Citizens for Responsible Zoning & Development (“CCRZD”) announces the retention of Howie Barte, as PR Representative to act as its chief spokesperson as it escalates a public crusade to defeat the full scale concrete batching plant project which remains half constructed on Marine Drive .

Until December 6, 2006, Mr. Barte was a centrist talk show host on WHJJ. In the fall of 2006, both he and his co-host Arlene violet were let go after a station buyout. Prior to that, he served as an air traffic controller for 33.5 years with the FAA at T. F. Green Airport in Rhode Island. During this time, he was co- founder of National Air Traffic Controller Association (NATCA). Being a NATCA Labor Activist, he has extensive dealings with national and regional press sources. He has also served in the U. S. Navy during the Vietnam conflict, and has lived in many countries.

Over 1, 000+ active members are entrusting Mr. Barte will persuade Cranston’s current elected officials to now act in the best interest of their residents. He will be responsible for further drawing attention to the corruption and outright violations of law which have plagued the complex Permit given to Cullion. To date, the Mayor and many other public officials have [side]stepped, declined or actually opposed investigating the unusually rapid and cursory 11 day permitting process tied to the approval of the concrete plant project in March of 2006, leading many local residents to believe they have not only abdicated their duties as representatives of the constituents who elected them to protect their health, safety, property values and the integrity of their neighborhoods.

Mr. Barte was clear in expressing his priorities and goals in stating, ” Not only is this assignment about holding the feet of elected Cranston officials to the fire and changing their attitudes with respect to the acceptance and misrepresentation of corruption of this magnitude, but it also entails persuading such embedded politicians to enforce laws and standards they clearly have had no choice in ignoring. Never before in my career as a talk show host or public rights advocate have I seen an example of runaway corruption combined with a clear plan to evade existing environmental, safety, zoning and building code laws to the extent embodied in the Cranston Marine Drive fiasco. This may be the first time in Rhode Island history where successive city administrations of both political parties have joined to perpetuate such an enormous cover-up of clear corruption at taxpayer expense,” continued Barte.

In response to questions relating to why the highly charged and controversial concrete plant project has yet to attract more than local media coverage Howie Barte was direct in his response by stating, “unfortunately local reporters always fear that really exposing the scope of corruption tied to a project such as the Cranston concrete plant will forever close the door to their all important access to a current City administration thus almost cutting off their livelihoods and career paths regional and national media organizations never worry about such matters and for me obtaining such elevated coverage will be job one. Let’s face it from a regional or national perspective this story has everything, public corruption, deceit, conspiracy as well the fact that a true airing of the facts in question may very well determine who is elected the next Mayor of Cranston or Governor of Rhode Island. From this point on the local rules don’t apply in my opinion – stay tuned.” added Barte.

Hmm, the next Governor of Rhode Island — I wonder who he could possibly be referring to…