Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Vote "Yes" for recreation bond; "No" to land transfer


The Charlestown Democratic Town Committee (CDTC) urges all Charlestown voters to vote at the town’s special financial referendum on Monday, June 1, at Town Hall.

When you vote, we urge you to vote YES to approve Petition #1 for bonding authority of up to $1 million to carry out long-delayed improvements to Ninigret Park, and No on Warrant Question #2, which gives away our rights to land bought with more than $2 million in taxpayer money.

The CCA-dominated Planning Commission and Town Council have thwarted attempts to use open space and recreation funds from past bond issues for recreation.

Just what does the CCA have against recreation at Ninigret Park?

Parks are meant to be enjoyed, by Charlestown’s families and by the seasonal visitors who bring in revenue much needed by local businesses.

Since 2000, $4.9 million in open space/recreation bond money has been spent to purchase open space while only $100,000 has been spent on recreation.

Charlestown Democrats have supported all those past open space/recreation bond initiatives, but we believe now is the time to restore the balance and focus on the single largest parcel of town-owned property, Ninigret Park, and carry out the long-delayed, town-approved plan to upgrade and improve this beautiful area for all to enjoy. It is misleading and offensive when CCA leaders refer to the proposed recreation bond as a “construction bond to complete the build-out of Ninigret Park,” which it is not.

A lot of work went into the already approved Ninigret Park Master Plan by the Parks and Recreation Commission, the Conservation Commission and Friends of Ninigret Park. It is time that Charlestown begins in earnest to fulfill the Plan.

Charlestown Democrats also urge town voters to vote NO to Warrant Question #2, which would give away our property rights to the 75 acres of land the town taxpayers purchased for $2.14 million in 2013. This land had been the proposed site for the unpopular Whalerock wind farm proposal, which the Charlestown Democrats opposed.

The Town Council, controlled by the CCA, wants to give away a conservation easement to that property on the premise that doing so would protect that property forever. This is the second time in recent years the CCA has used the Town Council to try to transfer taxpayer money to a private corporation through a complicated land deal.

The fact is that the 75 acre site, now called the Charlestown Moraine Preserve, was purchased with funds from the town’s open space/recreation bond funds as open space, and is, therefore, already protected. If any future town government wants to use that property for any purpose other than open space, they will have to go back to the voters for permission.

But if the town gives away a conservation easement on that land to, for example, the Charlestown Land Trust, that does not protect the land in perpetuity. The Charlestown Land Trust is a non-profit corporation and as such, may not live forever. It is a private organization not subject to the will of the voters and could, if it chose, sell or transfer that easement to someone else.

The Land Trust board, some of whom are not Charlestown residents, could decide to shed this conservation easement because they consider it to be a liability. Indeed, according to the Land Trust’s most recent tax return, they told the IRS that “The organization values its conservation easements with a nominal value of $1…” but that they actually believe each easement “constitutes a liability.”
That land belongs to all the people of Charlestown, and not just the CCA, or the property’s neighbors or the Charlestown Land Trust. The land is fully protected right now and nothing other than the will of the voters can change that.

On June 1 we urge you to vote YES on Petition #1, and NO on Warrant Question #2.

This commentary was written and submitted by former state Rep. Donna Walsh on behalf of the Charlestown Democratic Town Committee, of which Walsh is Vice Chairman.
A version of this article appeared as Guest Commentary in The Westerly Sun on Tuesday, May 26, 2015