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July 25, 2006
Lawmakers debate oversight role in URI project
PROVIDENCE -- At an unusual hearing today, state lawmakers debated their role in the development of the $50-million biotechnology center at the University of Rhode Island.
Two members of the House Finance Committee were upset about plans to include 10,000 square feet of administrative space in the 140,000-square-foot building, approved by voters in 2004 and scheduled to break ground this fall.
State Reps. Peter L. Lewiss, D-Westerly, and Eileen S. Naughton, D-Warwick, said the plan to include administrative offices was not made clear to voters two years ago.
URI President Robert L. Carothers told the finance committee that the plans always included space for administrative functions, adding that administrative offices comprised about 9 percent of the building's overall space, which is not unusual for academic buildings.
Just a few minutes into the hearing, however, several committee members questioned the reason for the meeting. Some said that questioning university officials about the biotechnology building felt like micromanaging, not overseeing the project.
"Are we here because we don't like the fact they have some administrative offices on the fourth floor?" said state Rep. Carol A. Mumford, R-Scituate. "I've been on the finance committee for eight years and we've never had a hearing like this before."
More to come in tomorrow's Journal and on projo.com. For more background on the dispute, read today's Journal story.
-- Journal staff writer Jennifer D. Jordan
Posted by Steve Peoples at 6:23 PM
Judge: Ban on Sunday car sales is constitutional
PROVIDENCE -- A Superior Court judge ruled against a group of auto dealers today, deciding that a 1950 statute banning auto sales on Sunday is constitutional.
Lawyers for five auto dealers contended that revisions made last year to the state's "blue laws" had the practical effect of doing away with the long-standing prohibition on Sunday auto sales.
But Superior Court Judge Susan E. McGuirl disagreed, issuing a 25-page decision today siding with Attorney General Patrick Lynch, who asked the court last August to weigh in on the situation.
"There were, and are, credible arguments on both sides. For that reason, I sought the clarity that only the Court can provide," Lynch said in a statement released this afternoon. "By ruling that the law prohibiting auto sales on Sundays is, indeed, valid and constitutional, the Court today has provided just this needed clarity."
Posted by Steve Peoples at 5:11 PM
Photo: Lettuce introduce you to a new farmers' market
Journal photo / Bob Breidenbach
Sandra Saucier, right, a Cranston native now living in Florida, talks with Aimee Lamarre, left, of Absalona Greenhouses in Chepachet about the hydroponic lettuces that she had for sale today at the opening of a new farmers' market at the Blackstone River State Park Visitor Center on Route 295 in Lincoln. The market will be open from 2 to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays through October.
For more information on farmers' markets in Rhode Island, click here.
Posted by Andrea Panciera at 4:33 PM
Two bicyclists hit by falling tree in N. Smithfield
NORTH SMITHFIELD -- Two bicyclists were slightly hurt this afternoon when a large oak tree fell on them as they rode by, North Smithfield Police said.
The men were riding their bikes west on Greenville Road around 2:30 p.m. when the the tree, about 4 feet wide and possibly 30 feet tall, uprooted and tumbled over, blocking the road, said Sgt. Bruce R. Senecal.
The men sustained only minor scrapes and bruises, Senecal said. One was taken to Rhode Island Hospital for examination.
The tree has been cleared and the street is open, Senecal said. Police do not believe any foul play was involved.
"It might be just a curse of nature," he said.
-- Journal staff writer Talia Buford
Posted by Steve Peoples at 4:21 PM
Men-of-war strike again
SOUTH KINGSTOWN -- A teenage girl was taken to the hospital this afternoon after being stung by a Portuguese man-of-war while swimming at East Matunuck State Beach at about 2 p.m., according to Stephanie Powell, a spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Management.
At roughly the same time, beachgoers at Misquamicut State Beach in Westerly, spotted at least two of the sea creatures, prompting the closure of a portion of the beach.
And officials in Westerly ordered all public and private beaches closed at 3 p.m. today because of multiple confirmed sightings of the men-of-war that started coming in around 1 p.m., according to town recreation director Paul T. Duffy, who also reported the first confirmed sighting on a Block Island beach today.
State beach staffs have been monitoring the water in kayaks for signs the men-of-war, Powell said.
Today's incident is the fifth stinging at Rhode Island beaches by men-of-war since Saturday.
A waist-deep swimming restriction remains in effect today at Misquamicut State Beach and Matunuck State Beach.
Read a full story about the recent rash of sightings and stingings.
-- Steve Peoples and Maria Armental, Journal staff writers
Posted by Steve Peoples at 3:56 PM
Public invited to celebration of Peruvian independence
PROVIDENCE -- They will sing, dance and eat traditional South American cuisine early this evening at City Hall, where Mayor David N. Cicilline has invited the public to celebrate 185 years of Peruvian independence.
The party starts at 5:30 p.m. inside the City Council chambers.
The Consul General of Peru, Jose Benzaquen, from the Peruvian Consulate in Hartford, Conn., will be joined by the dance group Central Folklorica Imperial and Stephanie Diaz. Singer Carlos Revolledo will sing traditional folk songs.
The event is free.
Posted by Steve Peoples at 3:43 PM
Finance Committee discussing URI's biotech building
PROVIDENCE – The powerful House Finance Committee is meeting in an unusual summer session to discuss the University of Rhode Island’s plans for a $50-million biotechnology building.
Two state representatives have concerns about how much of the space will be dedicated to administrative offices. They want to examine the university’s plans.
University officials dispute the lawmakers’ claim that office space will not be used for biotechnology.
Read more about the biotechnology building and the hearing in today’s Journal.
Posted by Kate Bramson at 2:10 PM
Police release ID of motorcyclist killed in Warwick
The Warwick police have released the name of the motorcyclist killed in an accident last night on West Shore Road.
Robert Kilner, 27, of Warwick, was pronounced dead at 9:36 p.m. at Rhode Island Hospital, according to the Warwick police.
Witnesses and evidence indicate that Kilner had been driving erratically on West Shore Road before the motorcycle struck a telephone pole near 2470 West Shore Road at about 7:10 p.m., according to the police.
Kilner was not wearing a helmet and was found bleeding from his head, according to the police.
The police are continuing their investigation.
Posted by Jack Perry at 1:21 PM
Romney: More problems delaying tunnel openings
BOSTON -- Gov. Mitt Romney said today that delays in opening the Big Dig tunnels that were closed to traffic after falling ceiling panels crushed a motorist have been caused by the discovery of more problems as crews inspect the safety of $14.6 billion highway system.
"The challenge has been continuing revelations of new problems and then a need to engineer new solutions to those problems," Romney said, as he briefed reporters on the latest closures and repairs in the tunnel network.
Romney had originally hoped that at least one of the tunnels could open by this week, but now he says he won't "guesstimate" on a timeline for repairs.
Read the full Associated Press story.
Posted by Jack Perry at 12:46 PM
Update: Celona fined $130,000 by Ethics Commission
PROVIDENCE – The state Ethics Commission this afternoon fined former state Sen. John A. Celona $130,000 after he admitted this morning to 10 violations of state ethics laws.
Celona said he was ashamed of what he did.
His fine is believed to be the largest ever leveled by the state Ethics Commission. The commission reached their decision after deliberating in closed session for about an hour.
Celona made no statement after the ruling and was quickly ushered with his lawyer to the elevators in the building.
The former state senator from North Providence resigned from office two years ago and pleaded guilty last year to federal charges of influence peddling involving the Woonsocket-based CVS pharmacy chain, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island and the Roger Williams Medical Center.
The commission's lawyer Jason Gramitt called for the former state senator to be fined $85,000.
Celona's lawyer, Lauren Jones, urged the commission, whom he said is "made up of fair-minded people," to take into consideration Celona's admission of guilt and the cooperation he has given the commission and federal prosecutors. Jones did not recommend a penalty that he would consider appropriate.
"I am sorry,'' Celona told the commission this morning. "I am sorry that I let my personal financial needs overwhelm my duty to act ethically."
Celona said he didn't start out intending to violate the code of ethics but at some point "I knew I had stepped over the line.''
"I am ashamed," said the former senator, adding that he was raised by ethical parents. "I shamed myself, my late parents, my family, my wife..."
"By doing the right thing now, I hope I can salvage whatever I have left," he said.
After hearing from Celona, the commission adjourned into executive session to consider Gramitt's request for an $85,000 fine.
"I find this to be the most egregious conduct that I've ever seen before the Rhode Island Ethics Commission,'' Gramitt told the commissioners
Some additional charges against him have been dismissed by the Rhode Island Ethics Commission, which voted unanimously this morning to accept his admissions.
Celona initially faced fines of up to $350,000 on the 14 total counts against him..
Read more about today's hearing and the charges against Celona.
-- Kate Bramson and Steve Peoples, projo.com staff writers
Posted by Kate Bramson at 12:37 PM
Photo: Learning to row
Journal Photo / Mary Murphy
Children in the Learn to Row program at the Narragansett Boat Club in Providence head out on the Seekonk River this morning for their lesson. With humidity increasing and the temperature expected to climb into the 80s today, the water should provide relief, but National Weather Service forecasters have issued a high-surf advisory for the coast.
Posted by Jack Perry at 9:31 AM
Carpet-cleaning van burns outside restaurant
EAST PROVIDENCE – A fire broke out early this morning in a carpet-cleaning van that was parked next to the Roast House Pub & Restaurant as crews cleaned the rugs inside the 40 Newport Ave. restaurant.
There were no injuries, and the fire that began at 12:11 a.m. was extinguished in 15 or 20 minutes, East Providence Fire Captain David Rave said.
Most of the fire was contained to the van, but it did cause some damage to the side of the restaurant and the roof, Rave said. Firefighters also opened a small section of the restaurant’s ceiling to make sure the blaze hadn’t spread.
Crews haven’t determined the official cause of the fire, but they believe something malfunctioned with a water heater in the carpet-cleaning van that is fired by two 40-pound propane cylinders, Rave said.
The health department must inspect the restaurant today, Rave said.
-- projo.com staff writer Kate Bramson
Posted by Kate Bramson at 8:44 AM
Hot and sticky and the surf's up
PROVIDENCE – It looks and feels like summer today.
The temps should rise to a high near 86, and it will be sticky today. Humidity levels should hover at 88 percent today.
If you’re heading to the beach to ease the effects of the humidity, beware of the National Weather Service’s high-surf advisory, in effect from early this morning to 8 p.m. tonight for the south coasts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. That includes south-facing beaches of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and Block Island.
The expected swells bring a greater threat of rip currents through this afternoon. The weather service offers some detailed advice on how to swim out of a rip current, which the weather service says can exhaust and drown even the strongest swimmer if that person tries to swim back to shore directly against the current.
Get the latest conditions and forecasts from projo.com.
Posted by Kate Bramson at 7:10 AM