Editorial & Opinion

The Uprising! April 26, 2019

Was it a busy week in Rhode Island? The short answer is yes. For a longer answer, keep reading. 1a. Invenergy The Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) won’t be deciding on Invenergy‘s application to build a fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant amidst the irreplaceable forests of northwest Rhode Island until mid summer, but that doesn’t mean hings
Photo for The Uprising! April 26, 2019

Published on April 26, 2019
By Steve Ahlquist

Was it a busy week in Rhode Island? The short answer is yes. For a longer answer, keep reading.

1a. Invenergy

The Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) won’t be deciding on Invenergy‘s application to build a fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant amidst the irreplaceable forests of northwest Rhode Island until mid summer, but that doesn’t mean hings aren’t happening in the case. To wit:

Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein issued a ruling in favor of Invenergy and the Town of Johnston, allowing the municipality to sell water to the proposed power plant and ship the water by truck to Burrillville for the purpose of cooling the plant’s turbines and other uses.

What this ruling means is that it is now legally considered a “domestic and ordinary use” of water to have it delivered from Scituate to Providence, then from Providence to Johnston, where it can be resold to a trucking company and hauled 19 miles north, past Scituate to Burrillville, where the water will be used to cool the turbines of a fracked gas and diesel oil burning generator.

Does this sound slightly idiotic? If so, says Judge Silverstein, it’s up to the General Assembly to fix the problem, not the courts.

1b. ISO New England

We also learned this week that ISO New England seems to not believe that the Invenergy power plant will ever be built. In a report from ISO New England‘s Chief Operating Officer Vamsi Chadalavada to the New England Power Pool (NEPOOL), Chadalavada talks about all the new power plants coming online in 2023, 2024, and 2025. Though Invenergy says their new power plant is due to be completed in 2023, the ISO report omits Invenergy and instead talks about all the wind projects going live.

Nothing in the report indicates that the New England region will be suffering without Invenergy’s contributions to our energy grid. Instead, everything looks pretty good, with crisp clean renewables easily replacing dirty fossil fuels like fracked gas.

This story made Utility Drive‘s top news of the day on April 25, meaning it was potentially seen by energy industry insiders across the United States.

1c. Cognitive Dissonance

“[W]hat is truly motivating Invenergy to pursue the Clear River Energy Center in Rhode Island?” asks Richard Brooks at the website energycentral. “Could this be a case where someone’s ‘image’ is at stake and a point must be proven by having the plant built at all cost?”

1d. Scituate

Former State Representative Michael Marcello, who authored a report commissioned by the Scituate Town Council examining the relationship between the Town of Scituate and the City of Providence concerning the Scituate Reservoir and the Providence Water Supply Board, spoke at the Scituate Democratic Town Committee Tuesday evening to explain the report’s findings and answer questions. Full video and a link to the report here.

1e. Wind

Governor Gina Raimondo announced Monday that Ørsted US Offshore Wind and Eversource – the team behind the Revolution Wind project – have pledged $4.5 million to support offshore wind education and supply chain development for the growing offshore wind industry in Rhode Island.

Rhode Island is well situated to do well with offshore wind, but why are we once again shipping our energy profits overseas to a multinational corporation instead of keeping our dollars local, with publicly owned wind power generation? We ship billions of dollars to England through National Grid, and now we’re planning to send more dollars to Europe courtesy of Ørsted.

We need a new plan.

1f. Plastic Bag Ban

On Earth Day the Providence City Council unanimously passed City Councilor Jo-Ann Ryan (Ward 5)’s plastic bag reduction act, which will be implemented six months after the bill is signed into law by Mayor Jorge Elorza. Elorza has indicated he will sign the bill. The Republican-lead Cranston City Council overrode Mayor Allan Fung‘s veto of similar legislation on the same evening.

1g. Port of Providence

“A 1.8-mile section of Allens Avenue, from Point Street to New York Avenue, is arguably the most unpleasant stretch of road in Rhode Island,” writes Frank Carini at ecoRI.com. He’s not wrong…

2. Wyatt Detention Facility

The Central Falls Detention Facility Corporation (CFDFC) met Wednesday morning for public comment and to enter into executive session to discuss the bondholder’s lawsuit. No one took advantage of the public speaking portion of the meeting. I asked Board chair Joseph Molina Flynn if he thought the lack of public speakers was due to the lawsuit, which seems to go after public officials such as Central Falls Mayor James Diossa and members of the Central Falls City Council.

“I hope not,” said Molina Flynn. “This is a public entity after all, and I hope people feel empowered to come into this space and say what they need to say about the corporation, about the prison, about the City of Central Falls and whatever they need to say is welcome here. That’s why we put a space for public comment on the agenda for today… I hope that the litigation and the ongoing nature of these closed discussions doesn’t push people away.”

Later on Wednesday, Molina Flynn resigned from the board, saying that he “did not realize how significant the time commitment” would be in this position.

3. Wangari Maathai Community School

A meeting of the Wangari Maathai Community School board was attended by South Side community members opposed to the new charter school moving into the John Hope Settlement House, a Black community institution that’s nearly a century old. I was at the meeting hoping to get answers to some of the many questions swirling around the school’s organization and process.

The community members supporting John Hope are worried about losing the center. They want information about the structure of the deal, how the deal is being negotiated, who on the John Hope Board is working the deal, how impacted John Hope services and programs will be, and expressed worries about gentrification.

The board listened politely to the community member’s concerns, but refused to answer any of the many questions raised. Instead, they said many of the rumors swirling around were false and that the board needed time to “strategically think about how to share what we’re really doing.”

Telling the truth does not require strategy. It requires honesty.

The board released a statement of Friday, which did not answer any questions or community concerns:

The Wangari Maathai Community School is working on the possibility of collaborating with the board, staff, and community members of John Hope Settlement House to open a community school. This includes addressing concerns coming from the West End community and families with deep ties to John Hope Settlement House. Like charter schools before us, we seek a temporary location to start, with a plan in place to locate a more permanent site for the school. Our proposed plan is to use only a limited portion of John Hope Settlement House with a commitment to dedicating funds towards the building. We respect and will not encroach upon all programs and services at John Hope Settlement House.

Prior to this possible opportunity, our outreach efforts centered on the South Side and Silver Lake areas of Providence because buildings in these locations appeared available for opening the school. Now that we are pursuing negotiations with John Hope Settlement House, we understand the importance of shifting our outreach to the surrounding community. We are further committed to working with members of John Hope’s community on how to best conduct and improve our current and future outreach efforts.

Most immediately, we look forward to building an active and ongoing dialogue by attending planned and future community meetings. We hope to build and strengthen our relationship with John Hope’s community.

4. Sex Work

When Providence City Councilors Katherine Kerwin (Ward 12) and Rachel Miller(Ward 13) introduced a resolution to the Providence City Council Monday night in support of House Bill H5354, currently before the Rhode Island House of Representatives, that would establish a commission to study the health and safety impact of revising current Rhode Island law around commercial sexual activity, they felt that they had assurances that the resolution would be voted on.

Instead, it was sent to the Committee on State Legislative Affairs, which hasn’t met since 2017. This seemed like a death sentence for the resolution, but surprisingly, after I pointed this out in my story about the resolution, a meeting of this elusive committee was scheduled for Monday, April 29 at 5:30pm!

5. Income Inequality

“What we know is that income inequality is on the rise, it has been for some time, social mobility is on the decline and we know a smaller fraction of children can expect to attain a living standard that is greater than their parents, which is something quite new for this country,” said Brown University President Christina Paxson at a forum with Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and Professor of Economics John Friedman.

Many readers expressed skepticism that Brown University, as an institution, is truly serious about tackling the issue of increasing income inequality and decreasing social mobility, given articles such as “VIP dinners offer peek at culture of privilege at Brown University” which exposed “invitation-only networking events, sponsored by a wealthy patron of the university,” that benefit children of the rich and famous…

6. Rhode Island Democratic Party

Given the endorsement scandals that plagued the Rhode Island Democratic Party (RIDP) last election, and the undemocratic way the RIDP uses roll call votes rather than secret ballots, some sort of reform is needed. RIDP Chair Joseph McNamara announced organizational changes ahead of the 2020 elections, which include the formation of a bylaws committee and an open and transparent process for making several at-large appointments to the Rhode Island Democratic State Committee.

We’ll know soon enough if these reforms are real or cosmetic.

7. Woonsocket Town Council Special Election

Alex Kithes, a lifelong citizen of Woonsocket, has announced his intent to run for the vacant seat on the Woonsocket City Council. The seat was vacated by Julia Brown, who was elected to the position last November. The Valley Breeze reported that “Brown wrote that her career has led to an unexpected opportunity that will relocate her out of Rhode Island, leading to the decision to resign her seat.”

“Our broken political system has devastated our city,” said Kithes. “So many families are struggling to make ends meet, while property taxes continue to soar. The city government is more divided now than ever. That’s why I’ve fought so hard for reform in the city and state, and why I will bring my passion for governmental accountability and broad, pragmatic solutions to the Woonsocket City Council. I will work to bridge the divide and fight for a government that better represents the people of Woonsocket.”

8. RI Works Program

“The RI Works Program is the safety net program for children and families as well as an important work force development program for parents,” said Linda Katz, policy director for the Economic Progress Institute. “Yet the program is not well understood and over the years state and federal funding to support families has decreased dramatically. We wrote this report with the hope that it will spur action by the Department of Human Services and state policy makers to make program changes that will improve outcomes for children and families. The proposal in the Governor’s budget to repeal the 24 month periodic time limit is a step in the right direction, but there’s much more we can do to use resources wisely to support these families.”

The report explores who receives RI Works, how much these families receive and for how long and how the program helps parents prepare for and find work. The report also explains how the federal block grant funding interacts with state funding. Read more here. You can download a 2-page infographic here.

9. Is Monolingualism the new Illiteracy?

10. Occupational licenses for the formerly incarcerated

“Prison should be about rehabilitation and finding a way to reintegrate into society,” said Sara Reyes, a member of DARE. “If the programs in prison don’t lead to employment it’s a false hope and a waste of taxpayers money.”

To that end the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on Tuesday on H5683, a bill that would prevent justice-involved Rhode Islanders from being denied an occupational license based solely or partially on a non-related criminal conviction. The bill, introduced by Representative Scott Slater (Democrat, District 10, Providence), develops a standardized process by which only convictions directly related to the duties of the licensed occupation can be considered in the application for a professional license; provide guidance on how those records should be considered when an application is being reviewed; and create a more transparent decision-making and notification process.

11. Statute of limitations for sexual abuse

Courtney Hawes argues that the statute of limitations for victim of sexual abuse to report a crime needs to be abolished or greatly extended.

11. Field Trips

The ACLU of Rhode Island and Rhode Island Legal Services (RILS) applauds a “guidance document” issued this month by Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) Commissioner Ken Wagner barring school districts from charging students any fees for school-sponsored field trips. The guidance was issued in response to an inquiry from the East Greenwich School Committee.

12. The Bartholomewtown Podcast

13. ConvergenceRI

Dr Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH), shares her perspective on maternal health as an expecting mom.

14. Are You Uncomfortable? Good.

“I spent yesterday afternoon at the Rhode Island State House dressed as a handmaid from Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale…” writes Cori Garland at The Womxn Project.

15. Picture of the Week:

Now go see Avengers: End Game!

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