Crowd visits Tiverton casino site in woods
Emerges with questions
TIVERTON — An official site visit by the Tiverton Planning Board to the future Twin River Casino location in north Tiverton Saturday afternoon drew a crowd of 66 town officials and members of the public, that descended into the woods over a stone and gravel construction road to see what was there.
The group began its tour near the future entrance to the 45-acre casino site at the intersection of William S. Canning Boulevard, near its intersection with Stafford Road and Hilton Street.
It emerged about an hour later with decidedly mixed opinions.
The casino project is in the very early stages of development.
"It's informative to a degree," said Don Featherstone, who favors the casino, and was there with his young grandson. "But it's pretty early on in the going. I don't have any issues."
"It was a big disappointment," said Roger Belanger, an IT consultant, who lives nearby on Stafford Road and says his property line is 200 feet from the casino property line.
"What needed to be seen wasn't shown — Sucker Brook, an intermittent stream they're going to be disturbing, the nuts and bolts of historical features such as a former mill," Mr. Belanger said.
"And Medicine Bear [a representative of the Pocasset Tribe who was present] told me there have been no historical studies done. Stone walls have been knocked down and we saw no evidence they were being stored."
Mr. Belanger is the leader of a group called Save Tiverton, which opposes the casino and has been calling recently for an independent peer review of the impact of the casino on environmental, historical, and cultural resources.
The touring group included about 10 members of Twin River staff, at least three Tiverton Town Council members (Council President Joan Chabot and members Christine Ryan and Joe Perry), and four members of the planning board — Susan Gill, Patricia Cote, Rosemary Eva, and Peter Moniz, but not enough to constitute a quorum — so a formal board meeting could not be declared).
The assemblage was led by Twin River attorney W. Mark Russo and engineer-project manager Christine Shea, who acted as tour guides. .
The path they took was over a crescent-shaped temporary roadway (made of crude construction rock and treacherous rip-rap) that led downhill towards Route 24, then curved south and west, and cradled — on the uphill side — a woods that would soon be the site of the casino itself. (Twin River hosts required all who were on the walk to sign liability waivers.)
The Twin River hosts narrated what would be built in various locations — the casino here, a hotel there, a two-story parking structure over there, and so on. The site will include assorted other features, such as wetlands protection, surface parking and paths and a bridge across some wetland areas.
Saturday, however, all there was to see was woods, no construction underway at all, and in the distance concealed by understory what appeared to be a stone wall.
During the site visit there was little to see but woods, though deep in the distance one could glimpse what appeared to be a stone wall.
"We're going to have our artifacts and campsites destroyed. It's sacred land," said Andy (Medicine Bear) Noronha, a representative from the Pocasset Tribe who was present..
Susan Anderson, who is chairwoman of the Tiverton Historical Preservation Advisory Board, talked with Medicine Bear, who she said told her that the "higher ground and where the water is" (generally on the upper east side of the overall casino site area) is where the Indian village was, and where there once were said to be "over 100" dwellings.
Ms. Anderson said the exact location of this village is a good question that needs answering.
"I don't think they're giving historical and environmental issues any real consideration," said Karen Benson, an attorney representing Save Tiverton. "It's sort of a fait accompli."
Richard Enser, a consulting wildlife ecologist, formerly with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, said as he was emerging from the casino site that "the habitat assessment that Twin River did is awful, it's useless. For example, the study it did of breeding birds "was done out of the breeding season."
Others, asked at random on the site visit, had comments.
Council member Joe Perry said it became known a month ago that a "flow test didn't pass." The test gauges the availability of water to the casino site (for consumption and fire suppression).
What that means, he said, is that some method of storing water on the site (a tower or tank) is going to be needed.
What does this mean for the project, he was asked. "There's nothing we can do. All we can do is make sure they do everything they said they were going to do."
"I think it's disgusting," said Loren King, a Fall River (Norman Street) resident who lives near the site of the casino. "It's a done deal. It feels like the town council is working in conjunction with Twin River." Ms. King attended and spoke at a recent Tiverton council meeting.
After the site visit, Mr. Belanger said the Save Tiverton group was going to continue to pursue the environmental issues. "Fall River people are coming forward. There's more visibility about what's at stake," he said,.
A recent plea by made by Save Tiverton's lawyer Karen Benson to the Tiverton Town Council, to have the environmental, historical, and cultural issues at the casino site subjected to peer review by independent parties, was directed to the planning board.
According to Planning Board Chairman Stu Hardy, those issues are more properly taken up later in the planning process, and the time of preliminary plan review on May 2.
The site visit did not focus or concern itself with traffic and the proposed new roundabout at the entrance site to the casino. "I'm getting the impression it's hands-off with the roundabout," said Susan Gill, the planning board vice-chairmen.
The roundabout will regulate traffic at the intersection of William S. Canning Boulevard near its intersection with Stafford Road and Hilton Street — believed by officials to be one of the most dangerous in Tiverton — and must be built before the casino can open.
So problematic is the safety at that location that a police detail was dispatched to control the vehicle and pedestrian traffic for Saturday's site visit — likely a first for the planning board's site visits.