2017-12-07 / Front Page

Council Approves Night Road Work, Bans Vapes

By James Merolla

On Monday, Dec. 4, the Middletown Town Council voted 6-0 to approve roadwork that will widen that intersection, utilizing a work schedule that includes night crews, following recommendations by Middletown’s Town Engineer Warren Hall. Antone Viveiros was the sole council member absent from the meeting.

Hall said the night work would ensure no lane closures to traffic from 6-9 a.m., and from 3-7 p.m., from Labor Day 2018 through June 15, 2019.

During the summer season, Hall added, all lanes would again remain open between 6 and 9 a.m. every day, so as not to impede the flow of traffic.

“There will be no lane closures [from] June 15 through Labor Day,” Hall said. “[Like] what we have seen in the past [when we worked on] Valley Road at Green End Avenue; this will be a very similar schedule, a very similar scope of work and we didn’t have any problems with that.”

From June 15, 2019 to Labor Day 2019, every lane would be open from 6-9 a.m. and 3-7 p.m. daily, with one lane open for alternating traffic Sundays through Fridays from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., according to a DOT schedule.

Hall said that while crews are conducting night work, there would be only “minor disruptions to the businesses” along the way. Gas pipes had already been laid by various DOT projects in advance of this project, he added.

Rhode Island Department of Transportation Project Manager Wellington Hall said the widening of the intersection, which includes dedicated left-turn lanes in each of four directions, could begin in spring, with contracts offered by the end of January. Besides the wider intersection, Hall said there would be a new traffic signal and new drainage.

The project is part of a greater effort to improve the entire length of Aquidneck Avenue.

Warren Hall said that after the contracts are meted out, the town will hold a public informational meeting for people to gain greater understanding of the work and its immediate impact.

Town Councilor Paul Rodrigues said he wanted to make sure businesses are notified of the work so they can put plans in place, and also that meetings are well advertised.

“Do you see this as solving the problem?” Rodrigues asked.

“I see it as a significant improvement,” Hall answered.

Councilor M. Theresa Santos asked if sidewalks would also be part of this project. Town Administrator Shawn Brown said they were not. Sidewalks will be part of another project along with paving and drainage work on upper Aquidneck Avenue between Green End and East Main Road, in 2019.

Rodrigues said he wanted the edges of Aquidneck Avenue paved over because of what he called a large degree of utility pole work being dug up south of this intersection. In other matters y The council voted 6-0 on Dec. 4 to adopt a new town ordinance that would ban the sale of vapor cigarettes, electronic smoking devices and multi-flavored tobacco products, as well as small cigars and cigarillos that are packaged, aimed at and effectively reaching teens and preteens in schools.

On Nov. 20, the council held a public hearing on the subject. It held another on Dec. 4, though this hearing was not as well attended and several of the same people spoke.

The council had planned to ban these tobacco products on Nov. 1 but faced lawsuits from several local business owners who said they had not posted the meetings properly.

Abdul Kahn and Mohammad Siddiqui, two of the owners involved in the suit, spoke again on Dec. 4 against the proposed ban, arguing they have never sold to any minors and that such opposition will seriously affect their revenue and livelihood at their convenience stores.

“We are paying taxes,” Kahn said, repeating his argument from the last council meeting where the issue came up. “We are paying everything, not selling products to minors,” Kahn said at the hearing. “To impose [this] is hurting our business.”

Siddiqui gave a final impassioned plea, reiterating that students will just go online to buy the products “when they can’t buy it in a store, any store,” he said. “Please support your local business.”

Carolyn Craft, a senior at Middletown High said she could smell the fruity smell of “vapes” in class, but never knew where the smell originated. “I only know that it happens,” Craft said. “Now that I know, it scares me how often this would happen, that kids would get their hands on these products and use them at school.”

These products may be finding their way into classrooms through something called a “vaporizer,” which could be mistaken for a USB flash drive. It can be charged when plugged into a laptop and is small enough to fit inside an enclosed hand.

Council member Henry “Rick” Lombardi said that before voting for the ban, three teens were suspended from Middletown High for “vaping” in the school building. y A large summer break-in and burglary at Sachuest Beach got a public airing, along with some criticism, from the council at the Dec. 4 meeting.

According to a synopsis given by Brown, someone, using either an axe or a sledgehammer, gained access to both the rental trailer and the manager’s office at the Sachuest Point Road beach on the overnight of July 13 to 14.

Brown said the perpetrators could not enter through an air conditioning unit, but got through a doorway, removing a large safe that contained more than $6,300 in town receipts and $327 in petty cash, along with 1,000 beach parking stickers.

Brown said the case was still being investigated, including some questions that still need answering. He estimated the total cash loss, property loss and damage at $14,209, but added that more than $11,700 had been recovered through insurance.

Santos questioned why the burglary had not previously been discussed publicly, since five months have passed since the break-in. If this had been put out while the police were investigating, Santos said, “Maybe someone would have come forth.”

Brown said it had not been discussed due to the open investigation. He said significant changes have been made: surveillance cameras were installed in the area and petty cash will no longer be collected and stored there. Brown said that beach staff was notified about numbers on the stolen stickers, but no one was caught using one while parking this summer.

Santos made a motion to post a $500 reward to anyone coming forth with information that will lead to the arrest of the thieves. Rodrigues suggested making it $1,000. “If somebody is going to rat somebody out, it’s Christmas, they [might come forward] because they could use the money,” he said to laughter.

Council President Robert Sylvia said the beach draws about $2 million each year. “It’s a serious source of revenue,” Sylvia said. “We need to protect it.”

The council urged anyone with any information about the break-in to call Lt. Jason Ryan at the Middletown police station, 401-842-6500 ext. 7020. y The council honored the Middletown High School girls’ varsity tennis team, who won the Division III State Championship this season, and the Unified volleyball team, for their exceptional programs. They also individually honored Michael Condry, who has dedicated his entire life to playing and coaching local baseball, and was recently inducted into the Rhode Island Babe Ruth Hall of Fame.

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