WESTERLY — Leadership of the Westerly Police Department continued to dominate the headlines in 2018.

The story appeared to peak when Police Chief Richard Silva agreed to leave his position on Oct. 31 after a year of service that was marked by consistent resistance from the leaders of Local 503 of the International Brotherhood of Police, the union that represents the department’s rank-and-file officers. Union members decried the selection of Silva over department veteran Shawn Lacey before Silva arrived and never warmed to him. Instead, the union filed an unusual number of grievances and conducted no-confidence votes.

After a national search following Silva’s departure, Lacey was appointed to the position.

Town Manager J. Mark Rooney, who made the appointment, said he expected Lacey to “distinguish himself early on as a visionary and effective community leader. His experience and management abilities are an excellent fit for the department at this time.”

Earlier in the year Lacey had filed a lawsuit against the town claiming a policy requiring Westerly Police officers to retire after 30 years of service violated state and federal laws. The case file on the lawsuit was closed on Dec. 19, six days after Lacey was sworn in as chief. The policy does not apply to the chief position.

— Dale P. Faulkner

Municipal sparring

The year of municipal government in Westerly was punctuated by change and sparring between individuals and factions on the Town Council.

Derrik M. Kennedy, who had served as town manager since October 2015, announced in late February that he was leaving to take a job in Mansfield, Conn. Kennedy was credited with helping to establish new financial and human resources policies and ushering in an emphasis on accountability. He had detractors, though, and explained during an exit interview with The Sun that he feared he would become a focal point in the 2018 election if he stayed in Westerly.

Kennedy’s replacement, J. Mark Rooney, started on an interim basis in May and was elevated to permanent status in August. Supporters said the Illinois native established himself with his handling of a quarry accident that injured two town workers in May and again when he traveled back to Westerly from Illinois when a town employee was killed in an accident on Dec. 19 at the Public Works complex.

The Town Council’s year was marred by a struggle to get along, perhaps memorialized when Councilor Mario Celico sued his fellow council members, claiming he was the rightful council president despite a vote to reorganize that resulted in Edward Morrone being named president.

— Dale P. Faulkner

Harbor plan

One of the Westerly Town Council’s most productive notes of the year saw the council adopt a working version of a harbor management plan. The move comes about 15 years after work on the plan first commenced and was the culmination of multiple council meetings devoted to the plan in 2018.

Significant portions of the plan are incomplete, including policies on how moorings will be distributed.

The council’s decision to adopt the plan gives the town one year to complete it and submit it to the state Coastal Resources Management Council.

In a significant development related to the plan, the council voted 4-3 in September to seek deauthorization of Watch Hill Cove as a federal dredge project area. The request was deemed necessary because current operations at the cove violate federal regulations, which require federally designated waters to be open to all.

The Watch Hill Yacht Club’s control over moorings in the cove violates the policy.

— Dale P. Faulkner

BDA receivership

The historic former Bradford Dyeing Association mill property was moved into receivership in June at the request of the Town Council after years of mounting tax bills and amid concern the property posed a public health risk.

Following the completion of two environmental assessments of the property, the Town Council was recently asked to approve plans to seek a $500,000 federal grant to initiate clean-up of four lagoons that were used to treat chemical-laden wastewater at the mill. Elected and appointed officials see the property as a potential economic development engine once it is deemed safe and free of environmental hazards.

In a related development, the state Supreme Court ruled that the Dunn’s Corners Fire Department is not required to respond to emergency calls at the former BDA property because the state General Assembly intentionally exempted the property form inclusion in the Bradford Fire District, which the Dunn’s Corners Department has served under a contract since 2014.

— Dale P. Faulkner

The Sun is sold

Eliot White and his daughter, Liz, announced on Aug. 20 the sale of Sun Media Group, including The Sun newspaper, to Rhode Island Suburban Newspapers. The White family’s Record Journal Publishing Co. purchased The Sun in 1999 from the Utter Co., which had owned it for more than 100 years.

In October The Sun newsroom was downsized when a reporter, editor, and part-time clerk positions were eliminated. Rhode Island Suburban Newspapers is led by Canadian newspaper executive Steven Malkowich.

The new owners have newspaper assets throughout Canada and the United States. Nearby operations include The Kent County Daily Times, The Call of Woonsocket, The Times of Pawtucket and the South County Independent.

— Dale P. Faulkner

Response to Parkland

Bearing signs that said such things as “Enough,” “We Demand Change” and “Protect Children, Not Guns,” up to 200 Westerly High School students gathered on March 14 side-by-side to take part in the 17-minute national walkout organized in the wake of the deadly Feb. 14 high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 14 students and three adults dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Students in Stonington and at Chariho High School and middle school participated in similar events. Westerly Superintendent of Schools Mark Garceau called attending the event at Westerly High School “one of the great privileges” of his 30-year career.

— Dale P. Faulkner

Meadowbrook Waldorf fire

The Meadowbrook Waldorf School in Richmond was a complete loss following a July 29 fire that saw more than 20 fire departments and close to 250 firefighters respond.

The private K-8 school moved to South Road Elementary School for the current school year and is engaged in a fundraising campaign for a new building.

A lightning strike was believed to have caused the fire.

— Dale P. Faulkner

Solar development

Development — in particular, solar development — dominated town council agendas in Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton in 2018.

Hopkinton was flooded with applications for solar energy facilities. Many of the proposals require zoning and comprehensive plan changes from residential to commercial, because industrial-scale solar facilities are not permitted in the town’s residential zones.

When the Town Council voted to approve one of the proposals after the Planning Board had recommended denying the application, and the council seemed to be prepared to approve another proposal for a project on Woodville Road, residents banded together to form an opposition group, Hopkinton Citizens for Responsible Planning, and the Woodville application was denied.

The group continues to fight proposed industrial solar projects at 310 Main Street in Ashaway, Skunk Hill Road, and the largest project of them all, at 130 Dye Hill Road in the Brushy Brook neighborhood. The citizens’ group has pledged to halt those projects that are not permitted without zoning changes.

In Richmond, a solar array built on 23 acres of John and Cindy Duncan ‘s Harvest Acres Farm on Kingstown Road (Route 138) was the cause of uncontrolled runoff onto a neighboring homeowner’s property and nearby Heaton Orchard Road. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management intervened, ordering the developer to address several problems on the site, including the heavy stormwater runoff.

In Westerly, the Town Council authorized Town Manager J. Mark Rooney to negotiate a contract with Ameresco Inc. of Framingham, Mass., to develop a solar array on 30 acres of a 100-acre property on White Rock Road.

The council also moved to exercise the town’s right to purchase the land from Rawson Materials, the Connecticut-based company that purchased it from Cherenzia Co. in March. Ameresco is required to make a $3 million up-front payment to the town to be used toward the $3.34 million purchase price.

The array is projected to provide a total benefit of $7.25 million to the town over the course of the company’s 25-year lease. The benefit will come in the form of reduced electricity costs for town and school facilities and lease payments by Ameresco for use of the land.

In Charlestown, solar wasn’t so much the issue as the character of the town. The town’s fight continued between the developer of a proposed Dollar General store to be built in the town’s village district and the Planning Commission, which had voted repeatedly to reject the proposal. In early December, Dollar General announced that it would end its three-year battle to build the store.

Charlestown also rejected a bid by the state to erect a large communications tower off Route 1 at Cross Mills. The council voted to oppose the proposal in March, asserting that the structure alongside Route 1 would be an eyesore. They also questioned whether the state had thoroughly explored alternative sites. (The state designated Route 1 as a scenic roadway in 2002.)

— Cynthia Drummond

Stonington building boon

Stonington sat on the other side of the development ledger in 2018 — projects abounded.

Late in the year, Hartford Health Care started construction of a gleaming new facility on Liberty Street on the site of the beloved former Maple Breeze Park, and in December the company won approval for a larger facility in Mystic on the site of the former Perkins Farm.

Also in Mystic, plans are in the final stages to build a community park and boathouse on a sliver of land that was purchased from the Mystic Seaport Museum. Stonington High School’s crew team will use the boathouse facility, which it will pay for using private funds.

In September, the Mystic branch of the Ocean Community YMCA opened its newly expanded and renovated facility. The project, which cost $7.5 million, added 12,000 square feet to the branch.

In Pawcatuck, zoning regulations were eased in a bid to try and lure development in the downtown area. Spruce Ridge, an affordable housing development, will join its sister Spruce Meadows in 2019 off South Broad Street.

— Corey Fyke

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