And so the nightmare begins.
Like most in Westerly I own property in one of the older sections of town that has had its share of past problems. The good news is that in recent years my little corner of Westerly has undergone a renaissance of sorts. Younger families have moved in, children are playing in the streets and neighbors are talking to each other once again.
The old peeling paint and overgrown lawns have given way to contemporary vinyl siding along with new roofs and swing sets resting on well-manicured lawns. We are even buying candy again for our little neighbors knocking on the door at Halloween.
So what could be the problem?
Some of our properties border a commercial building; you probably drive past it numerous times during the week while driving through town.
In 2015 a business in the shopping center changed ownership and renovations were done to make the business more appealing to their potential customers. Unbeknownst to me, or the town of Westerly, two massive walk-in coolers and a roofing structure were installed outside in the back of the building after the business opened with no building permit.
In legalese, “This addition constitutes a potential zoning, building and fire code violation.”
This business closed about a year ago and was abandoned, leaving everything in place.
Before I go any further I should mention that my property, and this business, are two blocks away from State Street School, a K-4 school with an enrollment of 356 students. Some of them walk past my home during the year to buy ice cream and snacks from the local shops off East Avenue and Granite Street.
The structure and the coolers have created a sort of way station for the local drug community, thank you Instant Messenger. It’s a dark and scary place and it attracts people in a dark place in their lives. Also the abandoned, and left-open, coolers were suspected of having people living in them. This condition is a violation of Rhode Island law 11-9-10, which was enacted to protect children, your children; don’t worry, our police department is on it.
My weekly chores now consist of picking up used syringes that are flipped over the border fence after they are used. Recently I called the Westerly Police Department, fed up. Something, anything, needed to be done. It was during that conversation that I was told that under no circumstance should I ever touch a syringe, due to fentanyl that is mixed in with heroin. Five minutes after my call, a police officer, trained to remove the fentanyl-laced syringe wearing thick black rubber gloves up to his elbows, showed up at my home to remove and place the syringe in a special container in his cruiser.
I should have known better. You see, I knew about the drug because I would help apply a fentanyl transdermal patch to my mother’s shoulder for chronic pain after she was diagnosed with lung cancer. Fentanyl is 50-100 times more potent than morphine and touching or breathing it can expose a person to its effects; remember the children from State Street School.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, we now have an even stronger concoction of the drug, carfentanil, that is even 100 times more potent than fentanyl. It’s used to sedate wild African elephants.
Last year a 10-year-old named Alton Banks died from a fentanyl overdose in Florida. It’s suspected he touched something laced with the drug walking home from school; it takes such a small amount, like a couple of grains of everyday table salt, to be fatal to a small child.
While I do not agree with much if anything that Hillary Clinton has to say, I did agree when she wrote “It Takes a Village.” Who’s there to look out for the 10-year-old Captain America and his 8-year-old sister wearing the Elsa costume, who knocked at my door on Halloween, from coming in contact with this menace?
This past week I attended a licensing board meeting to oppose this business receiving a license to open until such time as the business is compliant with the codes and zoning of the town.
I really would like to see the property restored to its original and compliant structure and eliminate this dark meeting place.
It was during this meeting that the person responsible for this non-permitted, abandoned structure and prior owner of the business was revealed as an elected town official.
I guess for some it’s better to do first and ask for forgiveness later? Don’t our elected officials take an oath of office or is that just a photo op?
Thankfully we have professional people in our town departments that are not swayed by political pressure and have taken the “not on my watch” stance.
As citizens of “our village” we need to do more and be vigilant of these problems.
We also need to hold accountable those who make it possible for these problems to exist.