In December 2016, I traveled from Rhode Island to Connecticut for a meeting at Old Lyme town hall where one of Connecticut’s US senators, Richard Blumenthal, pledged to do everything in his power. to stop the Federal Railroad Administration’s plan for the “Old Saybrook to Kenyon Bypass,” including attaching to the tracks.
I loved Senator Blumenthal’s runway imagery, not because I would someday want to see him hurt (I have great admiration for the senator), but because the picture showed such uncompromising opposition.
On July 16, it was reported that the two Connecticut senators were supporting the just announced Connect NEC 2035, which implements the first phase of the Federal Railroad Administration’s NEC Future plan. However, in the case of Senator Blumenthal, no mention was made of continued opposition to circumvention. What was offered instead was a pledge from fellow US Senator from Connecticut, Chris Murphy, to be “sensitive to the existing communities that live near the railroad.”
I am writing because my community of Charlestown contains the Kenyon end of the ring road, and the Federal Railway Administration planned less than five years ago to divide Charlestown with new high speed tracks that would have run from the western edge of Charlestown on board it is – through the Burlingame State Wildlife Management Area; through other public and private open spaces and homes in the village of Burdickville; through farms, including a four generation farm-to-table operation atop Schumankanuc Hill; on Native American tribal lands; through the center of the 1,112-acre Carter Preserve (owned by The Nature Conservancy); in the middle of the revolutionary era Amos Green Farm and adjacent properties protected by conservation easements; through federally funded historic Columbia Heights housing; then onto Historic Kenyon – to reconnect with the existing railroad near the eastern outskirts of town in the Grand Marsh State Wildlife Management Area. Additionally, the bypass would have crossed the National Wild and Scenic Pawcatuck River several times and was entirely within the areas of the US Fish and Wildlife Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge and the Wood-Pawcatuck single-source aquifer.
The plan was rejected at the time because there is simply no “sensible” way to inflict this level of environmental and cultural destruction.
The New Haven to Providence capacity planning study that is part of Connect NEC 2035 and which aims to address bypass issues requires more than sensitivity. Even before anyone examines the problems and possible solutions to providing a high speed train between New Haven and Providence, there has to be a real environmental impact assessment that includes all the impacts, such as the impact that the bypass would have taken on nearly 1,800 acres of permanently protected land. an open space, 450 acres of working farms, National Register eligible villages, a national wild and scenic river and the area of a National Wildlife Refuge. All of these and more have been omitted from the Federal Railroad Administration’s Level 1 EIS, and this only affects a small town along the ring road.
I don’t expect the people and politicians of Connecticut to know or care about my hometown of Rhode Island, but we are linked along the ‘Old Saybrook to Kenyon Bypass’ project, and the weakening opposition anywhere along the proposed bypass affects us all. It would be very helpful if people at the Connecticut end of the bypass could remind Senator Blumenthal of his promise to tie up to the tracks.
The writer is the chair of the Charlestown Planning Commission.