State Report: Changes at EDC, Hurricane Sandy & Christmas Tree Chaos

Saturday, December 01, 2012

This week, the State House Report centers on a pair of stories involving Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s decision making skills: the nomination of William J. Parsons for head of the RIEDC and the controversial “holiday tree” lighting.
Aside from Chafee, two environmentally significant stories are also on the docket. Firstly, the state has purchased a $1 million tract of land in Richmond for preservation purposes. Additionally, the U.S. government has revealed plans to sell wind energy leases off the coast of RI.
Lastly, we take a look at the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in regard to new damage estimates from FEMA.

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Chafee nominates Parsons to head RIEDC 

On Thursday, Gov. Lincoln Chafee nominated William J. Parsons the new Executive Director of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corp. Parsons, a longtime economic development official, has managed the RIEDC’s daily activities since May when former executive director Keith Stokes resigned in the midst of the 38 Studios debacle.
“Bill’s extensive knowledge, experience and relationships, combined with the RIEDC’s new focus on serving existing Rhode Island businesses, will help the agency enter a new era without having to start from square one,” said Chafee during his announcement.
Parsons, a Roger Williams University graduate, currently serves as managing director of Community and Business Development for the EDC. The nomination must now be approved by the state Senate.
Earlier this month, the RIEDC filed a lawsuit against 38 Studios founder and former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling in connection with the $75 million loan guarantee granted to his failed video game company. The suit also named Stokes, EDC official Michael Saul and EDC secretary Robert Stolzman.
Despite Chafee’s proactive approach with the RIEDC, which has included commissioning multiple reports , 52 percent of Rhode Islanders disapprove of the governor’s handling of the 38 Studios situation.

State House hosts hastily planned tree lighting ceremony 

Earlier this week, the state’s controversial “holiday tree” lighting ceremony went off without a hitch. As many Rhode Islanders will recall, last year’s festivities were interrupted by protestors performing a rendition of “O Christmas Tree.” In order to avoid what Chafee called the “chaos” of last year, the governor’s office held the ceremony at noon with just 30 minutes notice.
“Last year unfortunately this event turned into a very disrespectful gathering,’’ Chafee told reporters during the abrupt lighting ceremony. ‘‘So let’s light the tree, go and greet the performers and have a very merry holiday season.’’
Although Chafee managed to evade protestors, critics of Chafee’s decision to refer to the State House’s “Christmas tree” as a “holiday tree” were vocal after Thursday’s ceremony.
State Rep. Doreen Costa (R-North Kingstown), who sponsored a resolution declaring the Statehouse tree should be called a “Christmas tree” rather than a “holiday tree,” called the governor’s decision unfair.
“A lot of people are not happy,” said Rep. Costa. "People weren’t able to go. But it’s OK. We’ll have an actual Christmas party.”
Bishop Thomas Tobin added: “It’s very unfortunate that the governor has caused so much division in the state that he cannot even have a publicly announced Christmas tree lighting ceremony.”
The governor’s office stated this week that the State House will also host a menorah lighting service, but the details have not been finalized.

Hurricane Sandy damages update

It’s been one month since Hurricane Sandy roared through Rhode Island and the damages continue to add up. The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced this week that it has decided to raise its projection of public infrastructure damages from $5.5 million to $14 million. The figure does not include damage to private property. The agency has received 53 federal aid applications thus far from public-service agencies and municipalities.
RI Homeowners have received $186,000 in federal aid so far based on 349 applications. Businesses, which are not covered by FEMA, have filed 327 loan applications with the Small Business Administration as of last month.
In addition to federal aid paid to homeowners, the state has received $3 million in relief funds to repair roads in Narragansett, South Kingstown, Charlestown, Westerly and Block Island.
Hurricane Sandy is believed to have caused about $62 billion in damage and loss so far, making it the second-costliest storm in United States history. Aside from monetary damages, Sandy claimed the lives of at least 125 people in the U.S. and another 71 in the Caribbean.

RI buys 245 acres in Richmond for preservation

On Friday, the state Department of Environmental Management announced the purchase of 245 acres of forest in Richmond for the purpose of preservation. The acquisition, which cost $1 million, was partly made possible by the federal agency the Nature Conservancy, which contributed $300,000.
The land is located off Richmond Townhouse Road and nearby the 180-acre Grass Pond nature preserve. The area will primarily be utilized for hiking and bird watching, according to state officials. The state also plans on opening a portion of the land to deer hunting.
The land was previously set aside for residential development, but was deemed hazardous due to the increased risk of groundwater pollution.
The state already owns the Carolina Management Area, a 2,359-acre strip of land in Richmond, which includes agricultural land, wetlands and forests.

Federal government announces plan to sell wind energy leases off RI coast

The federal government has announced plans to sell wind farm leases off the coasts of Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Virginia. The news marks the first time the U.S. government has ever sold competitive leases for wind energy on the outer continental shelf.
“Wind energy along the Atlantic holds enormous potential, and today we are moving closer to tapping into this massive domestic energy resource to create jobs, increase our energy security and strengthen our nation’s competitiveness in this new energy frontier,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in a written statement.
Nancy Sopko, an advocate for conservation group Oceana, echoed Salazar’s sentiment stating:
“We’re getting a step closer to seeing real turbines out there in the water. The more progress is made, it sends that signal out to the rest of the world that the U.S. is serious about developing wind energy here.”
There are no offshore wind farms in the U.S., but several are in development, including Rhode Island. The state’s current wind farm project is set to go online in 2014, making it the nation’s first offshore wind farm. The RI off shore wind farm can potentially generate enough electricity to power 700,000 homes.

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