2018-03-15 / Opinion


RIDOT Meetings a Disappointment

To the Editor:

I recently attended two meetings open to the public that were billed as transportation “workshops.” Although both were slightly different in nature, they shared common themes, with workstations where comments and questions were made by citizens. The first meeting had no introduction, while the second on March 1 had a short one by a RIDOT spokesman who stated that the U.S. government required them to receive input from the public.

However, the level of disappointment, shared to me and by others, was startling. Overall, I heard from roughly 10 people. In an unscientific manner, the following was said repeatedly: “They’re going through the motions,” “This is not what I expected,” “What a waste of time,” “They probably don’t even care about our responses.”

Going through the motions, especially in regards to the RIDOT meeting, reminds me of Rogers High School football. There were many reasons why we won the state championship with undefeated records year after year, because “going through the motions” was unacceptable. During practice, the team would be called out by legendary head coach John Toppa, Sr. when we were “going through the motions” and not executing the assigned plays.

The first meeting allowed for comments to be made on a board, except there was no place to comment on roadways, while at the March 1 RIDOT meeting people were directed to individual workstations manned by out-of-town consultants. There was a small line of people looking to ask questions to the main RIDOT person, except it was unorganized.

My first question at the RIDOT meeting was simply: how can a foundation be built on a landfill, which sits on top of a marsh/ swamp, with a running stream going through it? Plus, the pollution and contamination need to be examined. The consultant said they would figure it out. The consultant responded that they don’t know the extent of the pollution. Translation: the cost may be too expensive to build on that land.

A woman expressed surprise that the city dump and a marsh was under the roadway, city yard, parking lot, etc. If she didn’t know that important fact, there were others who don’t know it, either. Why do you think there is a major empty parking lot out there? It covers up the dump and the marsh. However, when you have an open forum, people tend to learn from others, never mind the hard and uncomfortable questions that may arise.

RIDOT comments could be submitted within 30 days at the meeting, by mail or via the internet at surveymonkey/r/PellBridgeProject. Except, I have not been able to see what others have submitted online. I checked and couldn’t find the various described workstations either, although they said it was possible that the material could be added.

People asked why they want our suggestions now when we were not consulted in regards to the potential leveling of the elevated highway. Good question. If the U.S. government requires input, why was the public left out of that extremely important process?

The city is losing a gambling facility, but a major wager is being placed by RIDOT with your taxpayer money, which is far greater than the loss of a gambling parlor. All of this has direct economic consequences for the entire island and the people who live and work here. We need to get it right!

My second question was never asked due to the format. Has anyone at RIDOT consulted with Massachusetts DOT in regards to rotaries or roundabouts? They were removed long ago on the mainland side of the Sagamore and Bourne bridges at the Cape Cod Canal for various reasons, such as people blowing into them at a high rate of speed, car accidents, the lack of traffic flow, tie-ups and so on. They were replaced with a far more efficient traditional highway. But we want to do the opposite. Why put in roundabouts/rotaries at the Newport/Pell Bridge when we’re trying to peel off tourism and business from the Cape, not give it back to them! Did anyone ask Mass DOT? But roundabouts are the latest fad.

To this very day I can hear Coach Toppa saying "Stop going through the motions.” Why? Because you will have a poor outcome and be very disappointed.

I urge everyone to get involved with the RIDOT Newport/Pell Bridge project and demand the accurate facts and information with all major options be put on the table. If you don’t know much about the subject and have never been involved in civics, join the club, because you’re not alone.

Brian Stinson

Solving Middletown's School Problems

To the Editor:

The Middletown School Committee will ask the Middletown Town Council for a 4-percent increase (maximum allowed by law) in its 2019 appropriation from Middletown Taxpayers. The council did not give schools an increase in 2018, but the School budget is about $43 Million.

Middletown Schools' administrators and public officials began their campaign against the town last week, claiming they never get enough money and they are being abused by the Middletown Town Council. Here are some quotes from a NTW article last week:

“Even with 4 percent we will still be behind,” said Superintendent Rosemarie Kraeger.

“Last year they gave us no inclination,” said committee Vice-Chair Theresa Spengler. “We were shell-shocked. [The town council] cut us off at the knees.”

“We are going to get what we pay for,” said [Committee Chair Kellie DiPalma Simeone].

We will still be behind – in what?

A review of Rhode Island Department of Education data shows Middletown schools continue to be behind in achieving proficiency in English language arts and mathematics. Less than half of Middletown's students are proficient. This is a long-standing problem that hasn’t been solved with more money in past budgets.

Did the council really cut you (the school department) off at the knees?

No. Last year the Middletown council gave schools an appropriate amount of local tax dollars. The council kept their “no tax increase” commitment to the taxpayers and was tired of the school leaders’ questionable purchasing processes and expenditures.

What are we getting? What are we paying for?

We’re getting mediocre schools, at best, for $43 million. We are paying for excellent schools. The Middletown School Department’s mission doesn’t even mention language arts, mathematics or other intellectual disciplines. Here is the Middletown School Department's mission: “In partnership with students, parents and community, the Middletown Public Schools will cultivate lifelong learning through a collaborative, student-centered, educational model in the context of real-world experiences.”

Money will not solve Middletown’s school problems. Solving Middletown’s school problems should begin with: (1) replacing Middletown school officials; (2) establishing term limits for school committee members; and (3) redirecting teachers’ attention from the current school mission to traditional academic disciplines and holding teachers and administrators accountable for student proficiency in those areas.

Paul E. Mankofsky

New Tax to Compensate for Newport Grand Closing

To the Editor:

The recent meeting of our politicians to discuss increasing lodging and restaurant meal taxes raises red flags to residents and business owners. We are told that the anticipated $1 million of lost taxes from Newport Grand once its gambling operations move to Tiverton has to be replaced. This figure is misleading, because about $500,000 of the sum relates to property taxes, which will remain in place. And any new operation at the site will pay taxes and have employees who also pay taxes. Regardless, Newport powers have known for several years that Newport Grand was going to close, and should have been planning for any impact. Now they want to target non-voting visitors to our city, along with those who eat in restaurants and in effect our hotel and restaurant industry. Newport is expensive enough for visitors, residents and businesses. Why make it worse?

As the city manager noted recently, Newport’s population is declining. No wonder; we have high state and local taxes, a deficient education system and challenging business environment. More taxes, whatever the source and whomever the target, are not the solution.

Could this notion be a “plant” for bringing gambling back to Newport? Recall that Mayor Harry Winthrop agreed to put the proposition for expanded gambling tables (blackjack and poker) at Newport Grand on the ballot in 2012. Voters said “NO” then, but we must remain wary.

Mary Joan Hoene

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