Portsmouth's new reps sworn in

Overflow crowd watches in the State Room. Click to embiggen.

In a 2-hour ceremony at the Rhode Island state house marking the start of the 2013-14 legislative session, Portsmouth's four state representatives were among the 75 members sworn in by Secretary of State Ralph Mollis.

Portsmouth's two sitting reps, Ray Gallison (D 69) and Jay Edwards (D 70) were joined by their newly elected colleagues Dennis Canario (D 71) and Linda Finn (D 72). Canario and Finn joined a freshman class of 16 new members of the house.

It was an occasion rich with tradition. Rep. Peter Martin, as the senior house member from Newport, chaired the session until the election of the speaker. After being sworn in, the new legislators cast their first vote, by an overwhelming majority, to return Rep. Gordon Fox to his position as Speaker.

In opening remarks, Fox acknowledged the challenges facing the incoming legislature, and quoted Abraham Lincoln, urging the lawmakers to work through the difficult times ahead. He announced that the House will spend Jan 17 in a full-day economic conference at Rhode Island College seeking policy ideas for the upcoming session. Fox also reiterated his promise to bring marriage equality to a floor vote in the House by the end of January.

Governor Lincoln Chafee offered brief remarks, then the members, as is tradition, introduced their colleagues' guests.

Hope you'll join me in congratulating our new reps Canario and Finn, and welcoming back Gallison and Edwards. Thanks for your service, and for representing our town.

Localblogging, 02871, RI, GA

Rep. Edwards urges RIPTA restore Tiverton service

Rep. Jay Edwards (D-70) has requested that the RI Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) restore service to Tiverton now that the Sakonnet River Bridge is fully operational, according to a state house news release today. The request was made by Edwards in a letter to RIPTA Chair and Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian.

“My constituents need access to public transportation, as any other city or town in Rhode Island,” Edwards wrote. “We have been paying and continue to pay our share of the gas tax through which [RIPTA] is funded. We expect our fair share of access to public transportation as afforded elsewhere.”

Rep. Edwards noted in the release that Tiverton is one of a handful of towns in Rhode Island without a RIPTA bus line, and that public transportation in town would have a positive impact for residents looking for work or access to education.

“That’s all anyone cares about right now – getting back on their feet,” Edwards said of his request to Avedisian. “The sooner people gain momentum in the employment world, the sooner the state’s economy gets back on track. I understand there are financial concerns, but we also need to work in the interest of fairness. I sincerely hope Chairman Avedisian gives this request some serious consideration.”

The new bridge eliminates the 18-ton weight limit that formerly barred RIPTA busses from crossing on Route 24. It became fully operational on Friday, Sept. 28, after three years of construction.

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

Localblogging, 02871, RI

Sakonnet River Bridge finally opens (but what's with the dip…?)


Drivers headed north from Portsmouth this morning on Route 24 were treated to a first trip over the new Sakonnet River Bridge, and it is a very smooth ride. This reporter drove over it twice, and the paving work, lane width, and view are all welcome improvements.

I did notice an odd thing about 3/4 of the way to Tiverton, where the far right lane and railing seems to dip slightly (see photo, above). I've sent a query to RIDOT about this. I'm sure it's by design, but, I mean, you pay a hundred million for a bridge, you just want to be sure…

Localblogging, 02871, RI

Rep. Gallison gets DoD kudos for service member bills

Rep. Ray Gallison (D-69)

Portsmouth Rep. Ray Gallison (D-69) won praise from the Department of Defense this week for his successful sponsorship of two bills to help members of the armed forces and their families, according to a state house news release.

According to the release, Gallison received a certificate of appreciation signed by Robert L. Gordon III, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy, citing his sponsorship of two new laws that help deployed veterans vote and that accelerate child-custody hearings before deployment.

“Please accept our appreciation and that of the Service members and families residing in your state for your dedicated effort towards improving their quality of life,” said the Department of Defense in the letter accompanying the certificate.

The first bill (H 7100) brought Rhode Island’s elections law into compliance with the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, aimed at helping deployed military members and others abroad to register and vote.

The second (H 7274) created a law expediting custody hearings for parents who are military members and are about to be deployed. The law allows either parent to request that the court expedite a hearing to establish temporary custody rights, responsibilities, and parent-child contact during deployment if deployment seems imminent. The goal of the new law is to prevent parents who are deployed from losing custody rights because they are deployed before rights are determined.

Gallison, who chairs the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, was also the sponsor of a bill (H 7225) that passed into law this year to prohibit lenders from foreclosing on the home of any member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps or Coast Guard as well as members of the National Guard or Reserves when they are called to active duty, and for nine months following their return.

Editorial note: Written from a press release, but with sincere thanks for everything Rep. Gallison has done for our service men and women (and the rest of our community.) Thanks, Rep. Gallison!

Localblogging, 02871, RI

Northbound Sakonnet River Bridge to open tomorrow

The northbound lanes of the new Sakonnet River Bridge are scheduled to open tomorrow, according to a press release sent this morning by the RI Dept. of Transportation (RIDOT).

"With tomorrow's milestone opening of the new Sakonnet River Bridge to northbound traffic, we will reduce the lengthy detour that the motoring public has used over the past four years," said RIDOT Director Michael Lewis in the press release. "We thank the two host communities of Tiverton and Portsmouth for their continued patience and support during this project."

RIDOT expects the southbound lanes to open in "approximately one week." Here's some more detail from the release:

The new bridge is 2,265 feet long and approximately 96 feet wide. There are two 12-foot lanes in each direction with wide shoulders. Mariners will find a wider passage under the bridge's center span and the new bridge maintains the minimum vertical clearance over the river of 65 feet.
Once all traffic has been shifted to the new bridge, work will continue on approach roads on both sides of the span. Demolition of segments of the old bridge must take place before this work is finalized. RIDOT expects construction activities on the segments of Route 24 approaching the bridge to be ongoing through Spring 2013.

All construction on the new bridge is expected to wrap up in 2013, including the opening of a bike path along the northern edge of the new bridge and the connecting paths to local streets on both sides of the bridge. Work on the bike path approach segments is expected to begin in Spring 2013.

Also in 2013, RIDOT expects to advertise for a construction project for the demolition of the old Sakonnet River Bridge.

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

Localblogging, 02871, RI, Sakonnet River Bridge

Portsmouth: Please vote for endorsed Democratic candidates tomorrow

Tomorrow is Primary Day in Rhode Island, and it's an especially important one for Democrats in Portsmouth, where there are three endorsed Democrats running for school committee -- Emily Copeland, Terri Cortvriend, and Andrew Kelly. Opposing them are (in my opinion, obviously) two incumbent DINOs, including one I wrote about here. For those in the north end of town, your ballot will look like this:


Please remember to vote in the House District 1 race, where David Cicilline is facing a primary challenge. No matter where you live, you can find your polling place and check out a sample ballot at the Secretary of State's excellent Voter Information Center.

And just so you can put a face with a name, here are the Portsmouth School Committee candidates again -- hope you'll get out to the polls tomorrow and give them your support.


Full disclosure: I'm a proud Democrat.

Localblogging, 02871, School Committee, RI, Dems

RI Primary debate: Cicilline focused, Gemma snarling

ProJo's Achorn being lintrolled prior to debate.

In a 90-minute debate last night between Democratic congressional primary contenders, incumbent David Cicilline offered reasoned responses and displayed a strong grasp of policy, while Anthony Gemma spent the evening dragging the conversation back to allegations of corruption and offered little in the way of policy differences. Moderated by WPRI's Tim White, it featured questions from WRPRI's Ted Nesi and ProJo right-winger Ed Achorn (as well as a few from e-mail and Twitter).

The auditorium at Rhode Island College seemed to be split about 50-50 between supporters of the two candidates, and the proceedings were frequently interrupted by catcalls and boos (although I do think the Gemma supporters may have had a slight edge on this important metric.)

You can read my live-tweeting from the event on Twitter.

Post-debate analysis seems consistent with what was observable on site, with a consensus that Gemma failed to draw crisp distinctions and that Cicilline generally appeared well-informed and on message.

WRNI's Scott MacKay judged that Gemma failed to make his case: "In a debate against an incumbent, a challenger’s task is always to focus on why that office holder ought to be turned out of his job. Remarkably, Gemma had no substantive reasons, except for his wild voter fraud haymakers and criticism of Cicilline’s stewardship during his last year as Providence mayor in 2010."

Ted Nesi's analysis echoed this point: "Gemma couldn’t point to a single one of the 1,697 votes Cicilline has cast in Congress where he would have voted the other way – going so far as to tell voters the two Democrats are “very similar” and would vote the same way on nearly every aspect of federal policy."

It was a question of who stuck to questions of substance for RI Future's Sam Howard: "And that’s ultimately where the candidates differed. Mr. Cicilline returned numerous times to arguing against the Republican plan for America. Mr. Gemma remained focused on voter fraud and conspiratorial election-rigging, neglecting the Providence attack line that really worries voters."

You can visit WPRI.com to watch the whole thing here.

Full disclosure: My house doesn't have an attic.

Localblogging, 02871, RI

Sachuest Point celebrates re-opening of visitors center

Visitors explore the new interactive map.

Today was a beautiful day for a ribbon cutting. For the hundred-or-so residents, kids, volunteers, and officials who came together to celebrate the long-awaited re-opening of the Visitors Center at the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge in Middletown, it was a perfect afternoon to stroll the walking paths, enjoy dozens of fun exhibits and activities, and, of course, get the first look inside the renovated center.

The redesign of the facility, which serves 200,000 visitors a year, was made possible through more than $25K in donations from from the non-profit Friends of the National Wildlife Refuges of Rhode Island and $400K in transportation funds secured by the RI Congressional delegation. Sen. Jack Reed was on hand for the ribbon cutting, joined by US Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Regional Director Wendi Weber, RI DEM Director Janet Coit, RI Refuge Manager for the Fish and Wildlife Service Charlie Vandemoer, and Middletown Town Councilor Ed Silveira.

"This is one of the most beautiful places, not just in Rhode Island, but in the United States," Reed told the attendees, who gathered on the lawn in front of the center. "And these high-quality exhibits will help tell the story of this land." Reed singled out the community volunteers for their contributions, and noted the long-term vision of a two absent supporters, the late Sen. John Chafee and RI State Senator June Gibbs.

Cutting the ribbon (l-r) Middletown Town Councilor Ed Silveira, RI DEM Director Janet Coit, young assistant, US Fish & Wildlife Northeast Director Wendi Weber, Refuge Manager Charlie Vandemoer, US Senator Jack Reed.

Weber stressed the importance of having a place that was welcoming and accessible. "Conservation is a family affair," said Weber, "We need to do it together and get kids out from behind the TV and computer screen."

Coit spoke about the value of stewardship. "This visitor center will open the front door to people. They'll see an exhibit, get interested in nature, and who knows?" She was clear about that she hoped it would lead to greater appreciation and responsibility. "One of the most worthy and noble things we can do is take care of the environment for animals and people."

"This is one of the best places on earth," said Silveira. "I walk here regularly, and I'm always inspired."

With the ribbon cutting done, visitors filed into the renovated center with its gleaming new display cases, revamped interactive exhibits, and a bright, open floor plan. Even with a hundred people, it still felt spacious and welcoming, as dozens of youngsters threaded through the crowd, eagerly probing the new interactive displays.

Deputy Mgr. Juan Carlos Giese helps young visitors

Deputy Manager Juan Carlos Giese was grinning with delight as he showed off displays to groups of youngsters. "It's fantastic to see these children having such a great time," he said. "We wanted to make it interesting for kids, and fun for the whole family."

"I love seeing the happy faces of the kids," said Janis Nepshinsky, Visitor Services Manager for Rhode Island's National Wildlife Refuges. Nephshinsky, who served a project manager for the renovation, explained how the exhibits were designed to tell the story of the area from its geological origins through Native American times to its use by the US Navy (check out the display case by by the south-west door to learn more!)

"It's really amazing," said Coit. "It helps people to interpret what they see here, and the more you learn about something, the more you appreciate it."

"Everyone comes here for the beauty," Sen. Reed told harddeadlines. "This really adds an extra dimension to Sachuest Point."

As the afternoon wrapped up, Vandemoer looked out across the lawn at all the visitors. "I'm pleased to see so many kids, so many people sharing in our celebration," he said, "It's been a long time coming to give this to the Island, and the people."

More pictures from this afternoon up on Flickr.

Full disclosure: Sachuest Point is one of my family's favorite places on earth. Literally. After, perhaps Silbury Hill and Glastonbury Tor (and, for me, the rock garden at the Ryoanji Zen Temple in Kyoto). So I am far from objective. But still, this is an awesome reboot of the visitor's center. Go check it out.

Localblogging, 02871, RI, Reed

Fluke, Ledbetter, Richards among speakers at Democratic Convention

12aug20_dnc_logo.jpgSome of the most high-profile women in American politics will be front and center at the Democratic Convention in Charlotte next month, including Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, fair-pay activist Lilly Ledbetter, and Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) announced today.

Other speakers announced today are Caroline Kennedy, Nancy Keenan, President of NARAL Pro-Choice America, actress and Obama campaign co-chair Eva Longoria, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Former Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Tammy Duckworth, Denise Juneau, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Montana, and U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, "together with the women of the U.S. Senate."

Previously announced speakers include: San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who will be the first Latino keynote speaker at a Democratic National Convention, President Bill Clinton, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, Former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, U.S. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and Elizabeth Warren.

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

Localblogging, 02871, Elections, RI, DNC2012

RIDOT Director Lewis contradicts spokesman, says Escape Bridge usable

According to Rep. Jay Edwards (D-70), RI Dept. of Transportation (RIDOT) Director Michael Lewis re-affirmed today that Portsmouth's Escape Bridge is currently ready to use if needed for an evacuation.

In an e-mail this evening, Edwards said, "I spoke to Director Lewis today, and he stands by his previous comments that the bridge could be used in the event of a storm right now by removing the Jersey barriers. He also said he had spoken to their information person and told them to correct the information that you were given."

That information person would be Charles E. St. Martin III, RIDOT Chief of Information and Public Relations, who told me yesterday, "The bridge in its current condition cannot be used for traffic."

All I care about is having a way out of Island Park if one of these tropical systems rattling around in the Caribbean decides to pay us a visit. If the bridge is usable in an emergency, great.

But sheesh, it would give me more confidence if RIDOT could get their story straight.

Localblogging, 02871, RI, Escape Bridge