Proposed Railroad Reconfiguration Cuts Through Heart of Rhode Island’s Ethos

By KRISTEN M. CASTRATARO

Every election cycle, Rhode Islanders are asked to pass bond issues to preserve farmland and open space, and every election cycle Rhode Islanders rise to the occasion. Millions of dollars have been earmarked to buy development rights on farms that otherwise would be turned into housing developments or strip malls.

It is the height of irony, therefore, that Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., supports using more taxpayer dollars to destroy the very farmland and open space his constituents regularly vote to protect.

The Tier 1 Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) details proposed changes to the course of the tracks of the Northeast Corridor, changes that Sen. Reed considers good for Providence.

What does that proposal entail for Rhode Island? According to the EIS, the new railroad tracks would adversely impact an additional 11 cultural resources and historic properties (note these are only the registered sites), 200 acres of prime farmland, 1,415 acres of prime timberland, and tribal lands.

This taxpayer fails to see the value in “preserving” farmland and open spaces with tax dollars while simultaneously destroying farmland and open spaces with more tax dollars.

It is no secret that Rhode Island has its struggles. The economy is generally sluggish. The business environment has been described as decidedly unfriendly.  Political corruption jokes are standard fare in the media.

Despite these negatives, the Ocean State attracts residents, tourists and students from all over the world, and is home to families that trace their heritage back hundreds of years.

Why do they come? Why do they stay?

They stay because our little state offers something for everyone. History and culture buffs can visit Newport mansions, historic farms and industrial landmarks. Nature enthusiasts can wander through acres of forests, bask on sun-drenched beaches, and bird-watch in open fields. Foodies can pick out fresh meat, vegetables, fruits and seafood at farm stands, farmers markets and local eateries.

Our cultural and natural resources make Rhode Island a destination worth visiting, and this rail plan cuts through the heart of that.

Should this plan be implemented, a 150-acre, fourth-generation livestock farm will be divided by the new tracks, land-locking the individual parcels and effectively killing the farm business.

The Frances C. Carter Memorial Preserve, one of the largest preserves in the state, will also be cut in half, endangering an 11-mile open-space corridor. The Amos Green Farm, an 18th-century historic farm and site of Revolutionary War Encampments, will be segmented.

Residents who just recently bought homes in a new subdivision could be forced to move out.

The real travesty is that this plan has been almost five years in the making and nobody thought it was important to inform these residents of the threat until a week before Christmas. Really?

In return for this, what does Rhode Island get? A shorter commute to Boston and Washington, D.C., which will encourage local talent to work out of state and further cripple our economy.

Increased train speeds, resulting in increased noise pollution and additional threats to wildlife.
Added strains on the state coffers — higher taxes, anyone? — to develop and maintain the new, wider tracks.

The reality is that the EIS plan offers no real value to Rhode Island while substantially damaging the elements that make the Ocean State an appealing place to live and visit.

Contact your local, state and national officials via telephone today to let them know that you are opposed to the Tier 1 EIS and that you support Rhode Island’s open space and farmlands.

Kristen M. Castrataro is a resident of Richmond, R.I.