As we round the corner into the second half of 2019, The Hummel Report has new information on four of our investigations dating to last summer. They are developments, that in several cases, directly resulted because of our stories: from a new ally for the owners of a Foster farm trying to get approval from the state to drill a public well - to a breakthrough in restricting 911 fees. Plus: a restoration of flight services at Block Island State Airport. Jim Hummel has the details.
Midway through 2019, we have new information on four of our investigations dating to last summer. They are developments, that in several cases, directly resulted because of our stories.
The owners of a farm who have been unable to secure approval from the Department of Health for a commercial well on their property have a new ally: the retired chief of the agency’s drinking water quality division, who helped write the regulations.
John Hagopian contacted the Hummel Report after our investigation last month, saying he was disturbed by the process we outlined in our investigation.
Jon Restivo and Aiden Mott, who own Legend’s Creek Farm, need a public water supply to expand their business, which includes a kitchen in a newly-constructed building on the property. The department, in a process that dragged on for months, denied the application, citing a decades-old junkyard next door, as a potential source of pollution if they were to drill a well.
The presence of the junkyard, it determined, was reason enough for the denial, even though te department had no proof of contamination. An engineer the owners hired gave a detailed analysis that he says showed the contamination would run away from the proposed well and not toward it.
The owners are appealing the decision and have hired Hagopian as a consultant. He drafted a four-page paper in support of the application, confirming what Restivo, an attorney, had argued all along: the department’s denial cited no specific section of the regulations that would prohibit the well they are proposing to drill.
“I found no violation of the current Rhode Island Public Drinking Water Regulations. Further, there is no scientific reasons which would justify denying the applications considering what is known at the time.”
Hagopian suggested what Restivo and Mott had offered to do early in the process: drill a well and monitor the water quality regularly. The department denied that request.
Restivo and Mott have already spent $150,000, including engineering costs and the construction of a 1,600--square-foot barn to house a commercial kitchen, processing center and gift shop for products they make on the farm, such as soap, lotion and honey.
Last summer we introduced you to some residents in Coventry who were fighting to keep a truck repair business from intruding on their neighborhood. Despite a judge’s decision to do just that: nothing has happened.
Our investigation showed that two years after the town of Coventry took Ferrara Mechanical Services at 225 Hopkins Hill to court the case still had no resolution.
A Superior Court judge issued a decision a month after our report ordering the business to restore a vegetative buffer it had cut down - and not to park any trucks in the front of the property adjacent to neighbors’ homes. But the owners have ignored the order.
Cathy Theroux, whose backyard abuts the company’s driveway at the front of the property says nothing has changed, and that Ferrara continues to park idling trucks just feet from her property - contrary to the judge’s order
In a 22-page decision issued September 21, the judge ruled that the business had a legal nonconforming use as it had started long before zoning laws took effect.
But, she added, the buffer of trees and vegetation that Ferrara took down had to be replaced. McGuirl wrote in her decision: “No heavy duty vehicles, trucks, or trailers may be parked or placed in front of the property along the Helen Avenue fence line towards Hopkins Hill Road.”
Town Solicitor David D’Agostino tells The Hummel Report that the judge’s decision has, in his opinion, some misstatement of facts and he has been working with the court and Ferrara’s counsel to get it amended before appealing. But that process has lasted nearly a year with no end in sight.
Theroux continues to take pictures of the trucks next to her property. On June 21, she sent an email to D’Agostino: “I am sick to death of FMS. I have a Warwick tree service here trimming trees in MY yard and Ferrara is out there talking with them and telling me to go back in my house. This is over the top and I want him his illegal business addressed by the town and the court’s decision implemented.”
The publicity surrounding 911 fees - and a personal pitch to House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello from a North Providence woman - has resulted in the state finally putting some of the money collected into a restricted fund for 911.
The result came when the House released its budget two weeks ago. The House Finance Committee approved reducing the monthly surcharge for landlines and wireless phones lines from $1 to 50 cents and putting the revenue into a restricted account. However it also maintains a separate surcharge of 50 cents for landlines and 75 cents for cell phones, called the Emergency Services and First Responder Surcharge.
That portion will go into the General Fund and it means no reduction for consumers for the amount they are paying on their phone bills. The state collects nearly $18 million annually in surcharges
Robin Giacomini, who has been pushing for the change for more than a year said she was pleased by the change, which would “advance Rhode Island toward conformity with federal law.” Giacomini finally secured a meeting with the Speaker last month.
It is unclear whether the change will satisfy the Federal Communications Commission, which has threatened to withhold federal funding for 911 upgrades from states like Rhode Island that have diverted their 911 fees for other purposes.
Commissioner Michael O’Rielly in a statement, tells The Hummel Report: “It seems like a step in the right direction. To the extent that this new plan fully remedies past abuses and guards against misappropriating 911 fees, that’s real progress. However, I still need to understand how the separate public safety/first response fund is to be structured and administered to determine whether this new plan goes far enough in protecting 9-1-1 fees from diversion.”
A leading critic of staffing cuts last fall at Block Island State Airport, has a glowing review for the company brought in to bolster flight services as the busy summer season began.
Henry DuPont, a former town councilman and veteran pilot said the 68-year-old airport was compromised by the departure of two long-time employees at the end of September with no formal notification to local officials.
DuPont: “All we’re asking for is exactly what is being offered at the state’s other airports,” said Henry DuPont, a pilot and former town council member who has lived on the island and flown out of its airport since the 1970s. “If we’re part of a state airport system, we should have the same services that are being offered at the other airports.”
Three weeks after our investigation in February revealed potential safety issues because of the staffing cutbacks, the Rhode Island Airport Corporation reached a deal to bring back services provided by a company that was assigned to the island last summer.
DuPont called the service by FlightLevel Aviation “Fabulous, as good as it’s ever been,” adding that the facility is now staffed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week.
While DuPont is pleased with the day-to-day service, he has turned his attention to what he says are millions of dollars in cuts to for improvements on Block Island. He says the airport corporation had pledged $4.3 million for several years to go toward a ramp expansion program, but never funded it and has now dropped it from next year’s budget.
He is working with the town and state legislative delegation to get the funding restored.
Do you have a story idea or tip you want to pass along? Email me directly - and confidentially - at Jim@HummelReport.org