2014-07-10 / Front Page

Quest For Navy Land Resumes

By Jacquelyn Moorehead

Middletown Council members have decided to ask for the support of Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation in purchasing the former Navy Lodge at the corner of West Main Road and Coddington Highway.

The surplus Navy property became available through the federal Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) program in February of 2010. Middletown has been negotiating for the parcel for several years and notified BRAC in January of its desire to purchase it. However, the Navy informed the town in March of a proposal from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for the land, and negotiations with Middletown were thereafter suspended.

At the council’s regular meeting on Monday, July 7, Council Vice President Robert J. Sylvia introduced a resolution to reignite momentum and to make a formal request to Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. David Cicilline for assistance in the town’s effort to purchase the property. The measure asks the Navy to reject the BIA’s offer.

Council President Christopher T. Semonelli and Councilor Bruce J. Long thanked Sylvia for bringing the issue to the council. “It is important to get this in motion to keep going forward,” Semonelli said.

The purchase of the former lodge is part of a plan for the West Main/Coddington Development Center, where the town plans to add public facilities and amenities, along with commercial development. The development of West Main Road into a growth center could make it a new center of town.

During their session councilors also expressed surprise that a $2.3 million grant awarded from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation through the Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grants Program will not cover the costs of burying overhead wires. The grants are designed to restore, enhance, and protect natural areas from the impact of future storms. Second and Third beaches are the designated beneficiaries of the monies.

“The overhead wire project was not seen as a priority to maintaining the shoreline,” Town Administrator Shawn J. Brown said. He added that the wiring could really be considered as an aesthetic improvement.

Semonelli nonetheless expressed his frustration with the outcome. “This is a major disappointment to me,” he said. Other members of the council also anticipated that pole removal would be covered by the grant.

Town staff will seek other funding sources to cover the costs of placing wires below ground.

Council members also agreed to dispose of the school department’s surplus 2004 Ford box truck, which has been a topic of discussion during the past few weeks. “The problem we have is that it has 58,000 miles and it is 10 years old,” Councilor Paul M. Rodrigues said.

Middletown resident Manny Mellow objected to the plan, saying that a year ago the vehicle only needed a fuel pump and is worth fixing. “It’s a shame to get rid of the truck,” he said.

However, Brown reported that the truck was sent to Ernie’s Auto Repair, where it was diagnosed as needing $4,000 in repairs, including a fuel pump, new batteries, and brake work.

Brown also noted the town’s elevated position of trust, and said that it could probably not be sold in its current condition. “The town [may face liability concerns] and the recommendation that we are getting is that the vehicle is not safe to drive,” he said.

As the city has already spent $7,000 on previous repairs, councilors were reluctant to incur further expenses. In other business:

. Middletown High School’s North Easton Pond Green Infrastructure Demonstration Project was given the go-ahead to submit an application for monies from the Southern New England Coastal Watershed Restoration Program, Nutrient Management Grants. A grant would implement a water retention system at MHS to control storm water before it enters the drinking supply. The $400,000 project needs a match of $100,000 from town funds, non-federal grants, or in-kind field, administrative, and professional support.

. The Drug Free Communities grant writer was selected. Lori Verderosa, Middletown prevention coalition coordinator, recommended Wanda Pearson, who wrote the application for the current five-year grant that is due to expire in September of 2015. Monies from the grant would secure funding through 2020 and support activities geared toward preventing substance abuse among youth, such as the Peer Union for Safety and Health (PUSH) program.

. A special event permit was approved for the Middletown Arts Committee’s Family Fun Day at Paradise Park on Saturday, Aug. 16 from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Semonelli enthused, “It is a great day; if you can fit it in your schedule, go out!”

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