A Hummel Report Investigation
A plan by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management to build a $7 million natural resources and visitors center off the beaten path in Richmond/Exeter is facing opposition from more than 1,100 people who have signed a petition asking the governor to stop the project. This week: we visit the proposed site, located on the banks of a 50-acre pond within the Arcadia Management area. Jim Hummel also sits down with two opponents leading the charge, plus DEM’s point man for the project, who says it’s been years in the making.
On an unusually warm day last month, Browning Mill Pond in Exeter proved to be a popular place for visitors from near and far.
Some were hiking, others just hanging out near the pond - located within the 15,000-acre Arcadia Management Area.
The rustling of a brisk wind and the rushing water of a nearby stream were all you could hear on this day - and many days.
The landscape, though, is scheduled to change dramatically here over the next year, as the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management is ready to break ground on a 13,000-square foot, $7.2 million building that the department is calling a Natural Resources and Visitor Center.
Although it’s been in the planning stages for years, few people outside of government knew about it until just a couple of months ago.
Katrina: ``learned to fish here, spent a lot of time with my friends here.’’
Katrina Thornley lives within walking distance of the pond and trails. When she found out more about the state’s plans she put together a Facebook page and an online petition that has grown to more than 1,100 people. It asks Governor Raimondo to stop DEM from constructing the building.
Dave: ``It’s an office with a view, that’s what I’m looking at it as. That’s the way I feel it’s going to be.’’
Katrina’s dad, Dave Thornley, also spent a good chunk of his childhood in and around the pond.
Dave: ``I loved it when I was a kid, when I was a kid, down just this side of that grassy area by the water, that used to be a well manicured sandy beach.’’
The property straddles the Richmond-Exeter line and has been a state park since the mid-1930s. Dave Thornley says he can’t understand why DEM wants to spend so much money when it has other buildings it could refurbish.
Dave: ``I thought it was outrageous, they have so many buildings in the area they can use; the forestry headquarters isn’t 3 miles from here and that’s a huge piece of property they have there. I’m against them building anything new, not just because of how much it’s going to cost, but because how I’ve see the buildings they have go to waste over the years.’’