Highs and lows from last week

Highs and lows from last week

The Westerly Sun

Rhode Island and Connecticut did what they had to do last week to help General Dynamics Electric Boat expand and improve its facilities and infrastructure, buy new equipment, and train its growing workforce. The defense contractor, which had net income last year of $2.9 billion on revenue of nearly $31 billion, is gearing up to meet the demands of Navy contracts for accelerated attack-submarine production, and for the Columbia-class ballistic-missile subs that will eventually serve as our prime nuclear deterrent. EB is promising 1,300 new manufacturing jobs in Rhode Island, and nearly 1,900 in Groton and New London. Strictly speaking, General Dynamics does not “need” the states’ contributions, which together amount to $117 million. It’s hard even to contemplate the sheer scale of the parent corporation, which has 98,600 full-time employees. But EB’s president credited the states’ support for giving it an edge in its competiton with Newport News Shipbuilding, part of Huntington Ingalls Industries (2017 revenue $7.4 billion, net income $479 million). And psychologically, it’s important for this region to act as a partner with Electric Boat. There have been booms and busts in the defense sector, but these manufacturing jobs are a foundation of the Rhode Island-Connecticut economy at a time when military spending has been enjoying a resurgence. 

Hopkinton has been engaged in a useful discussion about the proliferation of solar energy projects that threaten to lead to widespread deforestation in Rhode Island. Neither wind turbines, another clean energy source, nor solar are purely benign technologies, and people in the Northeast are awakening to the consequences of unbridled development. The immediate issue in Hopkinton is a request for zoning and comprehensive plan changes to  allow a solar array that would cover more than 67 acres and require the removal of 22,000 trees. Town councilors may be disinclined to vote against this request because the company proposing the array, in Ashaway, submitted its application before town officials began discussing the idea of revising Hopkinton’s solar ordinance last month. Another project in Ashaway, already approved, would take out 30,000 trees. Across the state, dozens of projects are in the works, mostly on unprotected land or marginal agricultural properties. In North Kingstown, a Colorado company has scaled back its plan to clear 190 acres in the face of organized resistance, and we expect that the industry will encounter more obstacles going forward, despite state policies that seem to encourage companies to exploit undeveloped acreage.

It would be easy to dismiss the lawsuit against the St. Edmund’s retreat center on Enders Island as a waste of time and energy, as its president suggested last week, but that would ignore the feelings of those for whom the comings-and-goings of outsiders are a real annoyance. The situation has turned Masons Island, connected to Enders by a causeway, into a not-so-private enclave, and seven plaintiffs have gone to court to enforce the provisions of the late Alys Enders’ 1954 conveyance that turned over the island to the Society of St. Edmund for use as a novitiate and a retreat for diocesan priests. The first question for the court might be whether these residents have the standing to sue, since there’s been no suggestion so far that they themselves are “residual heirs and legatees.” Broader protection for the center could be construed from a civil rights law, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized  Persons Act, which prohibits zoning laws that substantially burden the religious exercise of churches and other religious assemblies or institutions absent the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest. Several of the plaintiffs were unsuccessful last year in pursuing zoning complaints with the Stonington Planning Department. It should be noted, too, that a number of activities at the center that the plaintiffs allege are “commercial” can reasonably be said to be religious in nature — things like weddings, funeral receptions, and addiction-recovery sessions. Most 12-step programs are rooted in spirituality. Can Enders Island’s neighbors truly say that their lives have become unmanageable?


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