standing Charlestown Town Hall

CHARLESTOWN — The Town Council has approved a request from the Chariho Cowboys youth football team to use temporary lighting at Puchalski Field.

The field, located behind the Town Hall at 4540 South County Trail, has no lighting and therefore cannot be used for late afternoon practices in the fall as the days get shorter. The item was placed on the agenda at the request of council Vice President Deborah Carney.

Team treasurer Dave Woodmansee, who attended Tuesday’s council meeting accompanied by numerous players and their parents, said later practices were currently being held in the parking lot of the Washington County fairgrounds.

“Everything we have is here, basically, whether it’s in our storage pods or in the storage building, and a lot of that stuff has to go with us,” he told the council. “When we’re practicing at Washington County, we have to have all of our bags, our sleds and everything moved, but additionally, the playing surface here is much more conducive to a football practice than a parking lot. We’re also grateful to the Washington County Fair to allow us to use that field and we’ll continue to use it when we have to.”

Woodmansee explained that lighting at the fairgrounds was coming from one side only, making it difficult for the players to see. Temporary rented lighting at Puchalski field, which would illuminate the entire field, would be used three nights a week, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Several parents of players asked the council to approve the request. 

“I thoroughly support this motion,” one woman said. “My son has been playing for the Cowboys for 10 years, and playing at that field, being able to practice at the field that they play on, being able to have full lighting is in the best interest of all of our kids.”

Council President Virginia Lee asked what precautions the team was taking to prevent players from being bitten by mosquitoes. Chariho’s “smart scheduling” policy to prevent Eastern Equine Encephalitis states that teams should be off the playing fields by 6:30 p.m. until the first hard frost.

“You’ve spoken eloquently about safety and to me, this is a very serious safety issue and you’re asking to put lights on so that you can play after dusk and after dark, and you’re explicitly going against the Department of Health, the Department of Environmental Management and Chariho and you’re asking the town to agree to that,” Lee said. “So my question is, that doesn’t seem responsible or good for the kids’ health. How are you dealing with this? ”

The Washington County fairground, Woodmansee replied, had been sprayed as part of the DEM control program and had been sprayed again by an independent contractor. Personal precautions are also taken.

“We advise and remind constantly that our kids should be in long sleeves, long socks and apply bug spray with DEET before practice and most teams have a supply at practice for them to put on if they forgot to do it at home,” he said.

In other business, Carney raised the issues of the upcoming residents’ survey and the comprehensive plan update during the council comments segment of the meeting. The items were not on the agenda, despite Carney’s request that they be included, so there was no discussion.

At issue, Carney said, is the request for proposals for an outside firm to conduct the resident’s survey, which will be paid for with $74,400 which has already been set aside. The council had promised the survey would be sent to all residents, but  Carney said she had learned from the RFP that it would only go to a “sample” of residents.

“We need to have a public discussion and assure the people of Charlestown that this survey will go out to everyone, not just a sample of residents,” she said. “That discussion needs to be held in public, so that all of the council members have received the same information.”

Lee said she didn’t feel that the council should dictate the parameters of the survey to the professional firm that is chosen to conduct it, but she said the survey would go to everyone.

“I don’t feel it’s proper for the council or any other person who’s not an expert to be dictating how we do the survey,” she said. “Who it goes to, absolutely it needs to be everybody. How it goes has to be done by the experts, otherwise we risk invalidating the results … We want to hear from everybody and we want to know that what we hear in unbiased, valid and statistically significant.”

Carney also raised the issue of conducting the survey before the completion of the comprehensive plan update, so residents’ wishes could be considered in the document.

“To be seeking that information and then not to wait a couple more months to do anything with the comp plan, it just doesn’t make sense,” she said. “It’s not like we’re up against a deadline … We’ve been working on it for five years.”

Lee said the update, which is being prepared by the Planning Commission, should be sent to the state for approval as soon as it has been finalized. She also noted that the comprehensive plan can be modified if necessary.

“If the survey gets done, of course it can get incorporated and if the survey’s done afterwards, then the comp plan can get amended up to four times a year by state law,” she said.

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