Whatever Happened To?
It’s a question we get weeks, or even months, after one of our investigations: Whatever Happened To….? This week Jim Hummel answers that question on a handful of our previous stories: from a controversial state project in Richmond and a bumpy start for the Providence-to-Newport ferry - to another attempt at salvaging ridership at the failed Wickford Junction Train Station.
So whatever happened to…?.I get that a question a lot, weeks or even months after we do an investigation. This week’s mid-year update has answers to a handful of our stories- beginning with a controversial visitor center on the Richmond/Exeter line - that is now on hold.
The people who use Browning Mill Pond in Exeter didn’t hold back when representatives from the Department of Environmental Management held a meeting in March.
They were there to explain and defend a $7.2 million visitors and natural resources center that many felt was inappropriate for the location - so close to the pond and poorly advertised by state officials.
Work on the center, which was supposed to begin already, has been delayed because of several setbacks. They include a lawsuit filed by the local towns insisting that the state has to get clearance from local planning and zoning boards for the project, which it didn’t do.
More problematic, though, is a sudden lack of funding. The General Assembly last week pulled back millions of dollars budgeted for this year, the first year of construction. DEM is also conducting traffic and archeological studies, but a spokeswoman declined to tell The Hummel Report if - or when - the project was going forward. That is good news for the opponents who have rallied against the proposed center.
Last summer’s popular Providence-to-Newport ferry is back: with a longer season this year. But it got off to a bumpy start - literally - right after it launched earlier this month.
More than 33,000 people took advantage of the taxpayer-subsidized service last summer, which featured $10 one-way adult tickets from India Point Park in Providence to downtown Newport.
The lower prices are made possible by a half million dollar federal grant, aimed at relieving traffic congestion.
DOT Director Peter Alviti told us last fall he’d like to see the service expanded and this year the state followed through, beginning the service in mid-June and will run the ferry through Oct. 1st - 41 days longer than last year.
And it will be adding an additional roundtrip each day of the week. The longer season means more than $800,000 in federal money to cover the extra days. But a day after launching on June 16, the ferry collided with a buoy in the Providence River trying to avoid a sudden change in direction of another boat near it - and that forced the suspension of the service for 10 days.
The ferry did begin running again on Tuesday. Avliti says the company that operates the ferry will absorb costs associated with the lost operating days.
The Wickford Junction Train Station continues to be a money pit for the state, but the D.O.T is launching a new promotion beginning next week that it hopes will attract new riders.
After we sent pictures of what we’d found to D.O.T., Director Peter Alviti pledged to replace all of the boxes the state had installed on 116, and Managing Engineer Robert Roccio said the department needed to revaluate the design - which was meant to be safer in case drivers ran into the boxes.
D.O.T. last week said it expects to have the 150 replacement mailboxes installed by the end of August. Alviti told us he plans to personally visit Polseno to apologize when the new mailboxes are ready to be installed.
Another D.O.T. project was brought to our attention last fall: the high-profile reconstruction of the Apponaug Circulator. One Warwick resident told us the state has been ignoring its own construction codes. And, he says, not much has changed over the past six months, even though he’s repeatedly to complain.
The Apponaug Project is still ahead of schedule and when it’s complete will significantly change the traffic pattern in one of the state’s more congested - and confusing - areas.
Last fall we spoke with Rob Cote, a Warwick resident who works as a construction inspector and travels through the Apponaug Circulator up to half a dozen times a day. Cote pointed out what he said was improper compaction and a lack of required dust mitigation, confirmed in construction reports that we reviewed as part of our investigation.
Cote has regularly sent us pictures this spring showing the conditions for motorists making their way through Apponaug and what he says is improper fill going in under newly-laid sidewalks. D.O.T. Director Peter Alviti says he is meeting to his staff to address Cote’s latest round of complaints.
Rhode Island’s largest wind power project is slowly taking shape as nearly a dozen turbines are ready to go online this summer- including three that willl begin generating power for the town of West Warwick. But the project’s developer ran into some controversy at the end of the General Assembly session.
The turbines arrived at Quonset Point in May, coming overseas from Germany. All but one would be heading to western Coventry, where the North Kingstown Company Wind Energy Development had been preparing sites much of the year.
Over the course of two weeks, aided by a team from the German manufacturer Vensys, the turbines went up and include three the town of West Warwick has bought and expects to begin providing all of the town government’s electrical needs this summer.
Wind Energy Development’s owner, Mark DePasquale, was in the news earlier this month when The Providence Journal reported a bill surfaced late in the session that would have forced ratepayers to pick up the $12 million connection costs that the company has spent for infrastructure to hook up the turbines. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello pulled the bill because of the controversy.
We will have more on that - and hear from DePasquale directly - in a story next month.
It has been a busy first six months for us and we already have a number of investigations in the pipeline for the second half of 2016. And remember, if you have a story idea you want us to check out email me directly at Jim@HummelReport.org.