A Hummel Report Investigation
It’s a question we get weeks, or even months, after one of our investigations: Whatever Happened To….? This week Jim Hummel answers that question on a handful of our previous stories: from a controversial state project in Richmond and a bumpy start for the Providence-to-Newport ferry - to another attempt at salvaging ridership at the failed Wickford Junction Train Station.
So whatever happened to…?.I get that a question a lot, weeks or even months after we do an investigation. This week’s mid-year update has answers to a handful of our stories- beginning with a controversial visitor center on the Richmond/Exeter line - that is now on hold.
The people who use Browning Mill Pond in Exeter didn’t hold back when representatives from the Department of Environmental Management held a meeting in March.
They were there to explain and defend a $7.2 million visitors and natural resources center that many felt was inappropriate for the location - so close to the pond and poorly advertised by state officials.
Work on the center, which was supposed to begin already, has been delayed because of several setbacks. They include a lawsuit filed by the local towns insisting that the state has to get clearance from local planning and zoning boards for the project, which it didn’t do.
More problematic, though, is a sudden lack of funding. The General Assembly last week pulled back millions of dollars budgeted for this year, the first year of construction. DEM is also conducting traffic and archeological studies, but a spokeswoman declined to tell The Hummel Report if - or when - the project was going forward. That is good news for the opponents who have rallied against the proposed center.
Last summer’s popular Providence-to-Newport ferry is back: with a longer season this year. But it got off to a bumpy start - literally - right after it launched earlier this month.
More than 33,000 people took advantage of the taxpayer-subsidized service last summer, which featured $10 one-way adult tickets from India Point Park in Providence to downtown Newport.
The lower prices are made possible by a half million dollar federal grant, aimed at relieving traffic congestion.
DOT Director Peter Alviti told us last fall he’d like to see the service expanded and this year the state followed through, beginning the service in mid-June and will run the ferry through Oct. 1st - 41 days longer than last year.
And it will be adding an additional roundtrip each day of the week. The longer season means more than $800,000 in federal money to cover the extra days. But a day after launching on June 16, the ferry collided with a buoy in the Providence River trying to avoid a sudden change in direction of another boat near it - and that forced the suspension of the service for 10 days.
The ferry did begin running again on Tuesday. Avliti says the company that operates the ferry will absorb costs associated with the lost operating days.
The Wickford Junction Train Station continues to be a money pit for the state, but the D.O.T is launching a new promotion beginning next week that it hopes will attract new riders.