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May 7, 2008
Tonight: Drowsy Chaperone on stage in Providence
A new musical, Drowsy Chaperone, is onstage at 7:30 tonight at the Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset St.
The Journal today said the musical revolves around a musicial-theater fan playing his favorite cast album, which comes to life in his living room.
The show runs through Sunday.
Tickets are $41 to $68. Call (401) 421-2787 or go to www.ppacri.org.
Posted by Mike McKinney at 6:50 PM
Fall River man arrested for peeping into home in Foster
BOSTON -- A man accused of raping and stalking a mentally disabled man is being held without bail in Bristol County after he was allegedly seen peeping in the window of the alleged victim's group home in Foster.
Buddy Smith, 22, of Fall River, Mass., is accused of terrorizing the 25-year-old man, even as his family moved him from place to place to get him away from Smith.
Smith is charged with rape, indecent assault and battery on a retarded person and witness intimidation after allegedly sexually assaulting the man multiple times between 2004 and 2006, said Gregg Miliote, a spokesman for Bristol District Attorney Samuel Sutter.
Smith was out on $1,000 bail while awaiting a July 21 trial. He was indicted in June 2006.
On Tuesday, Smith was ordered held without bail until a May 21 bail revocation hearing after he allegedly tracked the man to a group home in Foster, on the Rhode Island-Connecticut border. Witnesses told police they saw Smith peering into the window of the group home on March 20 and driving by the home on April 9, Miliote said.
The man's family told police they have moved him to various group homes in Rhode Island to try to protect him from Smith.
"They have moved him around several times," said Miliote. "Mr. Smith allegedly found out where this victim had been moved to, went to this group home and was peering in, looking for him."
Smith's attorney, Kenneth van Colen, did not immediately return calls seeking comment today.
-- The Associated Press
The alleged victim's family said Smith, his uncle, William Senay, 52, of Fall River, and several other men gang raped him multiple times, beginning in 2004.
Senay has also been charged with rape and indecent assault and battery on a retarded person, and is scheduled to go to trial July 21. No one else has been charged, Miliote said.
Senay's attorney, Kenneth Littman, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
It was not immediately clear if Smith could face charges in Rhode Island. Phone messages left for Tiverton, Middletown and Foster police and an e-mail message left with a spokesman for the state Attorney General's office were not immediately returned.
Colleen Lutkevich, executive director of The Massachusetts Coalition of Families and Advocates for the Retarded, said the alleged victim's mother contacted her more than a year ago, saying Smith had repeatedly stalked and threatened her and her son. The alleged victim has mild to moderate mental retardation, Lutkevich said.
"He's been following this boy and his family on an almost daily basis," said Lutkevich. "Every time they move him, this guy would find him again."
The alleged victim's family said Smith went to the man's house in Tiverton in January 2006, and stalked him repeatedly over the next two years, including at a library in Middletown, R.I., in December, Lutkevich said.
The assaults allegedly began in 2004 shortly after the victim met Smith through a friend in Fall River. Smith is accused of taking the victim to a church parking lot in Fall River, where he allegedly raped him. Miliote said prosecutors believe Smith raped the man multiple times.
Posted by Mike McKinney at 6:46 PM
S. Kingstown bus drivers ratify new three-year contract
SOUTH KINGSTOWN -- The school bus drivers ratified a three-year contract this afternoon, ending the threat of a strike that hovered over the district over the past week.
Members of Teamsters Local 251, the union representing drivers, aides and monitors, voted 46 to 0 to accept the deal, Shop Steward Tracie Warren said moments after the vote
“I’m very pleased,” Warren said. “I’m very glad it’s over.”
The union voted to strike last week in rejecting a proposal from DATTCO, the bus company. Members agreed to hold off on the strike, however, as long as the parties remained at the table. Talks had been ongoing since.
The agreement includes retroactive pay and raises that bring salaries in line with other districts, Warren said. She could not provide specifics, but Cliff Gibson, chief operating officer at DATTCO, said they ranged from 3 ½ to 5 percent a year.
In addition, members will be able to contribute to their 401(k) plans for the first time since those accounts were frozen when they unionized in 2001, Warren said. They also received an additional paid holiday in each year of the contract, Gibson said.
“I’m glad people stood their ground and got what they wanted,” Warren said.
“It’s a good deal,” Gibson said. “We’re very pleased we were able to negotiate a settlement that was good for all parties without an interruption in service.”
The 36 drivers and 26 aides and monitors the union represents had been working without a contract since Jan. 1.
Read Journal coverage of issues involved during the contract negotiations.
-- Journal staff writer Katie Mulvaney
Posted by Mike McKinney at 6:17 PM
Gov. Patrick: Gambling legislation may be back
BROOKLINE, Mass. -- Despite a recent high-profile defeat, legislation to legalize casino gambling in Massachusetts "may yet come back," Gov. Deval Patrick said today.
Patrick said he wasn't basing his statement on the possible departure of House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, a gambling opponent, but on a confluence of other factors.
The Democrat told a Brookline Chamber of Commerce audience that an unyielding need for property tax relief, the possibility of slot machines at the state's racetracks and ongoing efforts by the Wampanoag Indians to build their own casino will reignite the discussions.
"There's a lot of interest in it, and issues that die in one session don't die a permanent death. They tend to come back over time," the governor said afterward.
Under one scenario, Patrick said, casino gambling supporters might try to expand the slot machine bill to include the resort-style casinos proposed by the governor. Patrick projected that his plan for three casinos would generate at least $600 million in licensing fees, $400 million in annual tax revenues and 20,000 permanent jobs.
-- The Associated Press
DiMasi led the effort to kill the plan. The Boston Democrat argued the revenues would be offset by social and economic costs, including lost business at traditional tourist destinations.
More recently, though, potential successors have been jockeying for position as the speaker has faced allegations of ethical lapses. DiMasi has said he's not leaving and Patrick answered a flat "no" when asked whether his comments in Brookline were rooted in a suspicion the speaker would leave.
Yet on two occasions with his audience, the governor raised the prospect of a renewed gambling debate.
Patrick held fast to his support for the plan, despite criticism from one questioner, who labeled casino gambling "predatory."
The governor said he once had doubts about casinos, but he felt the gains outweighed the costs.
"It may yet come back in the Legislature. I acknowledge it's hard," he said of his plan.
Later, when asked about how to provide permanent property tax relief, the governor complained the House had rejected four ideas he proposed.
After ticking off his ideas for a 1 percent increases in the meals and hotels taxes, as well as closing a telecommunications tax loophole, he said, "Resort casinos have been rejected for the time being."
Moments later, Patrick added: "We've got to think of some better ideas than just moving the same revenues around."
A DiMasi spokeswoman refused comment.
Posted by Mike McKinney at 5:42 PM
A first for high court: Webcast of lead-paint appeal
When the Rhode Island Supreme Court hears arguments next week in the appeals of the state's landmark lead-paint decision, anyone with Internet access will be able to watch and listen.
The arguments scheduled for Thursday, May 15, are expected to draw national interest, and the judiciary issued a media planning advisory today saying the state's highest court will Webcast oral arguments for the first time.
Chief Justice Frank J. Williams authorized the Webcast "because of the wide national interest in the case," the advisory said.
The appeals are from the lead paint case tried in Superior Court. In 2006, a Superior Court jury concluded lead-based paint is a public nuisance in Rhode Island and that three of four paint manufacturers on trial in Providence should be held responsible.
The court is readying for a crowd expected at the Licht Judicial Complex in Providence, fielding "many inquiries" from lawyers, brokerage houses and media representatives from around the country.
A single camera will provide the video feed to the conference room and for the simultaneous Webcast on the Internet. The Webcast will be accessible using a link in the lower left corner of the judiciary’s home page: www.courts.ri.gov. Arguments are expected to begin at 9 a.m.
The appeals are the only matter the Supreme Court will hear that day. It's the last hearing date on the court's calendar for this year.
-- projo.com staff writer Michael P. McKinney
Posted by Mike McKinney at 4:47 PM
Carcieri shifts MHRH director to new advisory post
Governor Carcieri has removed Ellen R. Nelson as director of the state Department of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals, and appointed her his special adviser on hospital acquisitions and mergers, a newly created position that the governor described as temporary.
Meanwhile, Carcieri does not intend to replace Nelson at MHRH. Instead, division heads will report to the deputy secretary of health and human services, Adelita Orefice.
Nelson is leaving her post to advise Carcieri on an issue over which he has no statutory authority. The director of health and the attorney general decide whether to allow hospital mergers, and have staff devoted to handling the expected proposal to merge the Lifespan and Care New England hospital groups, which has not yet been filed.
The change in Nelson's position was announced by the governor's office today.
Asked why the governor needed an adviser on hospital mergers, his spokesman, Jeff Neal, said: “The governor is still the head of state. He is the head of government. He is going to have an important voice in the debate about these potential hospital mergers.”
Neal said Carcieri wanted someone outside the formal regulatory process to examine the big policy issues.
Both Neal and Nelson said there had been no disagreement between Carcieri and Nelson, who took the helm at MHRH in 2006. Nelson said that the idea for the change came from the governor.
-- Journal staff writer Felice F. Freyer
With 1,600 employees and a budget of almost $500 million, MHRH is one of the largest and most complex state departments, overseeing the only state-run hospital and the state’s mental health and developmental disabilities programs.
When Nelson leaves, which she said would happen probably by Monday, Craig Stenning will move from the Department of Human Services to take charge of developmental disabilities and behavioral health. John Young, currently the Medicaid director, will oversee the Eleanor Slater Hospital.
Orefice said that Nelson’s departure provided the opportunity to reexamine the programs at MHRH, along with those at the four other state agencies involved with human services. Her office is looking at consolidating administrative functions and reorganizing services for better efficiencies at those agencies, she said.
Posted by Brandie Jefferson at 3:02 PM
Photo: Chatting it up at Centenarian Brunch
Journal photo / Bill Murphy
Nanci Sarganis, left, of Providence, chats with Anna Galloway, of East Greenwich, as the latter celebrates her 101st birthday as part of the 31st annual Governor's Centenarian Brunch, held today at Capital Ridge in Providence.
Posted by Andrea Panciera at 2:57 PM
Security contractor fired after shooting at Zambarano
BURRILLVILLE — In the aftermath of a shooting involving a security guard, the Rhode Island Department of Mental Health, Retardation & Hospitals has cancelled its contract with a company that provided security services to Zambarano Hospital.
A security guard for the North Providence company, Industrial Security and Investigators, was in violation of a hospital-mandated weapons ban when he allegedly fired a single shot at a knife-wielding intruder on Sunday evening. The intruder ran away and authorities haven’t been able to find him.
The company had been informed of the anti-weapons policy twice prior to the incident, according to an MHRH spokeswoman Laurie Petrone.
“We ended our contract with them yesterday,” Petrone said.
“What is most important is the health and safety of the patients and the staff up at Zambarano Hospital,” she said. “We view this as a serious matter.”
Now, the department is reviewing proposals submitted by other security providers during a recent bidding process. In the interim, MHRH has some security on staff at its facility in Burrillville and both the Capital Police and the State Police will assist with any security issues at the department’s hospital facility in Cranston, Petrone said.
-- Journal Staff Writer Mark Reynolds
Posted by Jack Perry at 2:44 PM
Man struck, killed on Route 146, Providence
PROVIDENCE -- The Route 146 exit from Route 95 north was shut down for a time overnight because the police found a man's body on Route 146 after drivers called to report someone in the road.
Investigation indicated the male, who was found in the area of the Admiral Street overpass, had been struck by two vehicles, according to the state police.
The police have not disclosed the person's name as they want to be sure about notification of family, according to State Police Capt. James Swanberg. The state medical examiner's office came to the scene, but no cause of death has been disclosed.
The state police could not say conclusively whether the person jumped from an overpass or walked into the road, Swanberg said.
Earlier this morning, at about 1:51, the state police Lincoln barracks did get a phone call from East Providence police saying there was a man threatening to commit suicide by jumping off one of the overpasses of Route 195, Swanberg said.
During the next several minutes, police checked the area but did not find anyone.
At about 2 a.m., the state police Lincoln barracks got a call from a male who identified himself and stated he was contemplating suicide.
At about 2:06 a.m., the Lincoln barracks got a call from a driver stating someone was lying down on Route 146 north, Swanberg said. About a minute or so later, another driver contacted the barracks saying someone was lying on the highway.
State troopers responded and found a body in the road.
Providence police assisted in closing Route 146 from Route 95 north. The road was reopened at 3:35 a.m.
-- projo.com staff writer Michael P. McKinney
Posted by Mike McKinney at 1:50 PM
Update: Weight limit cut again on Pawtucket River Bridge
PROVIDENCE -- The state Department of Transportation said this morning that it has again reduced the weight limit on the Pawtucket River Bridge, which carries Route 95, from 22 tons to 18 tons.
The new weight limit will affect some loaded school buses, among other vehicles, said Kazem Farhoumand, the agency's acting chief engineer. The agency said signs posting the new limit would go up by the end of the day today.
Farhoumand said that the bridge remains safe and that the weight limits have been imposed to reduce continued deterioration of the bridge to keep it in service until it can be replaced, not because of a threat of failure. He also said the DOT may repair the damaged beams prompting the new weight limit.
Farhoumand said that he does not expect a large impact on truck traffic, and that the detours, set up with the DOT first reduced the weight limit in November, are working well. The DOT has been directing through truck traffic around the bridge, using Routes 146 and 295. More on detours, including maps ...
Farhoumand said the reduced limit is a response to the results of an inspection that found increased deterioration of three floor beams, which run across the bridge between its main girders which run lengthwise, parallel to traffic.
The bridge is actually two separate structures, one carrying northbound traffic and the other southbound. Two of the problem beams are on the southbound side and the third on the northbound side.
-- Journal staff writer Bruce Landis
The DOT has already asked the General Assembly for the power to ban all vehicles with three or more axles because overweight trucks continue to use the bridge and because of the difficulty of enforcing a limit that affects many trucks when they are full but not when they are empty.
Built in 1958 as part of the original interstate highway system, the bridge carries an estimated 162,000 vehicles per day.
Bridge inspections are typically done once every two years, but because of its condition, the Pawtucket River Bridge has a detailed inspection every six months, the DOT says
In a press release this morning, RIDOT Director Michael P. Lewis said, "The Pawtucket River Bridge is safe. However, in an abundance of caution and to further preserve its deteriorating condition until the bridge is replaced, we are lowering the posting of this bridge.”
Posted by Jack Perry at 1:15 PM
Study shows many renters losing homes, too
WASHINGTON -- Lease-abiding renters in four New England states are losing their homes to foreclosure as fast or faster than single-family homeowners who default on mortgages.
That's the conclusion of a report released today by the Washington-based National Low Income Housing Coalition.
The report examines Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire, which have large numbers of two- and three-family homes and apartments.
The NLIH estimates at least 45 percent of the housing units in the final stage of foreclosure in those four states were occupied by renters whose landlords were behind on payments.
The estimate is based on foreclosure data covering all of 2007 and the first three months of this year.
The Journal reported today that the state's housing market is plunging, according to information reported by the Rhode Island Association of Realtors.
-- The Associated Press and projo.com staff
Posted by Mike McKinney at 12:23 PM
Bunnell trial: Spilled milk and yogurt, then a beating
PROVIDENCE -- The babysitter whom Katherine S. Bunnell hired to care for her children the night 3-year-old Thomas "T.J." Wright was killed took the witness stand this morning to describe the beating that left the boy within an inch of his life.
Kayla Roderick, who was 15 the night of the Oct. 30, 2004, beating, testified in Providence County Superior Court that Bunnell screamed, "What happened to my (expletive) house? What is that all over the floor?" when she returned home around 2:30 a.m. to find some milk, yogurt and a mixing bowl on the living room carpet.
Then, according to Roderick's testimony, Bunnell, 24, and her then-boyfriend Gilbert Delestre, now 27, took turns beating T.J.
Roderick testified she heard several loud slaps from the upstairs bedroom where Delestre had gone to waken T.J. Then, she said, she saw Delestre carry T.J. down the staircase and push him to the floor at the bottom of the stairs.
The testimony was offered on the second day of Bunnell's trial on charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder. She and Delestre each face the same charges but are being tried separately. Both are being held at the ACI.
The beating took place in Bunnell's Woonsocket apartment and left T.J. -- who was Bunnell's nephew and one of three children in her custody -- so badly injured that he was declared brain dead and taken off life support at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence the next day.
-- With reports from Journal staff writer John Castellucci
A police officer yesterday testified that Bunnell and Delestre were trying to put blame on the babysitter, who was asleep on the sofa of the apartment when Bunnell and Delestre came home from a nightclub around 2:30 a.m. and flew into a rage, dragged T.J. out of bed and beat him for making a mess on the living room floor.
Read The Journal's coverage of the opening statements and initial testimony in the trial yesterday.
Posted by Mike McKinney at 12:02 PM
CVS shareholders reject executive pay proposal
Journal photo/ Bill Murphy
CVS Chairman Tom Ryan at the annual shareholders meeting.
Shareholders gathered this morning for CVS Caremark Corp.'s annual meeting narrowly rejected a proposal that would have limited the use of "gross-up" payments to senior executives.
Generally, a "gross up" payment is given to an executive as the result of the award of a bonus or other such distribution. The executive receives not just the bonus, but also an additional amount -- the "gross up" amount -- to cover the taxes due on the bonus.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) opposes such payments and has submitted shareholder proposals to a number of companies, including Woonsocket-based CVS Caremark, seeking to restrict "gross up" awards.
"We support compensation programs that tie pay closely to performance and that deploy company resources efficiently," the AFSCME proposal stated. "In our view, tax gross-ups for senior executives . . . are not consistent with these principles."
CVS' board of directors opposed the change, stating its reasons in the proxy sent to shareholders before the meeting. The company does not provide gross-up awards to cover an executive's income tax payments but provides them on a "case-by-case" basis.
"Tax gross-ups are used to address limited situations where the compensation intended for an executive might be unavoidably impacted by tax rules," the proxy states. "In these situations, tax gross-ups are often the only effective way to proved the intended benefit to an executive without paying the executive too much or too little."
The proposal failed to get a majority of shares voted this morning, with 48.1 percent of the shares voted in favor and 43.9 percent voted against. Another 7.9 percent abstained.
-- Journal staff writer Paul Grimaldi
Posted by Jack Perry at 12:00 PM
Jane Goodall talks birds to humans in Hopkinton
Alex the parrot is pictured in a 2006 handout photo. In two decades of studies at MIT, Alex -- who died last September -- rivaled the chimps Koko and Washoe in his grasp of human language.
Look into the eyes of a chimpanzee, and you may see something of yourself. But if you want to hear the shared history of species, you have to turn to the parrot.
Today, world renowned primatologist Jane Goodall is turning her attention to that favorite feathered pet. But at the ribbon cutting ceremony at the newest Foster Parrots Exotic Wildlife Sanctuary, she’ll be calling attention to birds that have been abandoned, abused, or even unsuccessfully hunted.
The Foster Parrot Sanctuary is relocating from Boston’s South Shore to 15 acres in Hopkinton. It’s already home to about 300 birds, who live in free-flight enclosures with 24-hour supervision and access to medical care.
“For me, the sight of a parrot living alone, living in a cage, deprived of flight, miserably bored, breaks my heart,” Goodall said in a statement, “And the parrot’s too, perhaps.”
Animal welfare advocate and state Sen. Robert Hedlund, of Massachusetts, will join Goodall and a handful of contributors and associates at the private ceremony today. Goodall is scheduled to give a private talk tomorrow in Newport.
-- projo.com staff writer Brandie M. Jefferson
Posted by Brandie Jefferson at 11:37 AM
Cheney to speak at Coast Guard Academy graduation
NEW LONDON, Conn. -- The Coast Guard Academy says Vice President Dick Cheney will speak at its commencement ceremony May 21.
Academy officials say the vice president is set to deliver the keynote address at 11 a.m. at the school's 127th commencement.
President Bush spoke at the academy's graduation last year, and portrayed the Iraq war as a battle between the U.S. and al-Qaida. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff addressed cadets at the 2006 graduation.
-- The Associated Press
Posted by Jack Perry at 11:14 AM
Obama or Clinton? Sen. Reed remains uncommitted
Although Sen. Barack Obama's near-miss in Indiana and his crushing victory in North Carolina have made Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's pursuit a majority of Democratic convention delegates increasingly implausible, Sen. Jack Reed is one uncommitted party leader who remains unwilling to push her to quit the presidential race.
The Rhode Island senior senator is a superdelegate, one of the unpledged party leaders who hold the key to a nominating majority that neither candidate appears able to attain by the close of the caucus and primary season on June 3.
"I have not put an internal deadline'' on endorsing a Democrat for president, Reed told an interviewer this morning, "but the reality is we can't go much past the middle of June.''
Reed reiterated his intent to let the remaining contests play out-- starting with next Tuesday's West Virginia primary.
"I think we've come far enough down the line that we should probably go the course, at least to see how these primaries work out."
The senator added that he sees a "growing consensus" that "a logical time to begin to conclude is at the end of the primary season."
As for the latest primary, Reed said "I think this has been a race that has featured constantly shifting momentum. It appears that Sen. Clinton had built some momentum. Now that seems to be shifting. That is one of the key factors we have to asses: who has the momentum going into the general election? That has been unresolved based on yesterday."
"This is not about selecting a nominee," he siad, "it is about selecting a president.''
Reed remains confident that after the remaining votes are cast, it won't take long for Democrats to unite behind a standard-bearer in the general election contest against Republican Sen. John McCain.
U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island’s most prominent Clinton supporter, said he hopes she continues running, despite trailing in the race for delegates. “She’s entitled to fight on and I think she has a good message and I think the process is a good one.’’
But when asked what he’d tell Clinton if she called and reported she was mulling whether to stay in or pull out for the sake of party unity and possibly a chance to be vice president, Whitehouse said, “I’d probably tell her that she should do what’s in her heart.’’
He said she has put an enormous amount of work into a fight in which she has faced a hostile media environment and that she has been steeled by “operating in the toxic environment of Republican smear politics.‘’ Whitehouse declared, “I think she knows very well the position that she’s in and I trust her to make that decision.’’
Meanwhile, one of Obama’s best-known supporters, Lincoln Chafee, a former U.S. senator from Rhode Island and Republican-turned-independent, said he believes the Democratic race is over and can’t understand why Clinton doesn’t grasp the math of the competition for delegates.
As for Clinton setting off on a fresh round of campaigning today, a baffled Chafee asked, “What is the strategy? It eludes me.’’
-- John E. Mulligan, Journal Washington bureau, and M. Charles Bakst, Journal political columnist
Posted by Jack Perry at 10:51 AM
Mass. Gov. says casino bill could 'come back’
BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick says a bill to bring legalized gambling to Massachusetts “may yet come back in the Legislature.”
And he says he’s not basing his statement on the possible departure of House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, a gambling opponent.
Instead, the governor told a Brookline Chamber of Commerce audience today he thinks an unyielding need for property tax relief, the possibility of slot machines at the state’s racetracks and ongoing efforts by the Wampanoag Indians to build their own casino will reignite the discussions.
DiMasi led an effort to kill Patrick’s plan for three casinos in the state.
Recently, potential successors have been jockeying for position as the speaker has faced allegations of ethical lapses. DiMasi has said he’s not leaving.
The Rhode Island state Legislature yesterday voted to override Gov. Carcieri's veto of a bill to allow 24-hour video gambling at two facilities in this state.
-- The Associated Press
Posted by Brandie Jefferson at 10:28 AM
System uses sound to find whales, avoid ship strikes
A rare North Atlantic right whale dives in Cape Cod Bay near Provincetown, Mass.
ON CAPE COD BAY, Mass. (AP) — A spotter bangs three times on the boat’s cabin roof, signaling the captain to cut the throttle — now.
In the foggy gray of Cape Cod Bay, the reason for the abrupt stop soon becomes apparent: The research vessel is surrounded by rare North Atlantic right whales, their glossy black heads bobbing just above the surface as they feed on plankton slicks.
Ship strikes are the top human-related cause of death for these mammals, which are in danger even from this vessel, a slow-moving research boat called the Shearwater. But new technology could soon help safeguard the whales by using sound, not sight, to track the creatures’ movements.
“We’re listening to their chatter,” whale expert Christopher Clark said aboard the Shearwater, referring to the grunts and groans whales use to communicate. “They can’t keep their mouths shut.”
The right whale was hunted nearly to extinction in the late 18th century, and the death of even one in the estimated population of 350 to 400 is a setback. Since 1986, at least 32 right whales have been killed by ships.
Now researchers listen for the whales using 13 underwater microphones attached to buoys off the coast of New England. Eventually, scientists hope to follow their movements closely enough so boats can slow down and post lookouts.
-- The Associated Press
The slow-moving whale is oblivious to its surroundings while feeding and is frequently at risk while migrating up and down the East Coast through busy shipping lanes and waters laced with fishing gear in which it can get tangled.
In the past, tracking whales often depended on inefficient aerial surveys, which were limited by weather and how often the whales surfaced.
“The slower the ships go, the lower the risk of killing a whale with a ship,” said Clark, director of the bioacoustics research program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the project’s lead scientist.
Kathy Metcalf of the Chamber of Shipping of America said shippers would welcome a listening system because they are currently being asked to reduce their speed despite uncertainties about where the whales actually are.
“We’ve been saying all along that if we can get real-time information, we want to avoid them,” Metcalf said.
Clark got the idea after a chat in 2001 with fellow whale researcher Moira Brown, who wondered if they could record the whales in Cape Cod Bay and then match the sounds with what scientists were seeing.
Clark was shocked to hear the tape loaded with calls even when no one knew whales were present. He started recording more frequently in larger areas and discovered the whales were always around, even when the planes spotted nothing.
Clark believes whales use the calls, similar to a grunting “moo” or a high-pitched “whoo,” to communicate who they are, where they are and where to find food. Sound moves much more efficiently in water than air, and the animals can easily talk over several miles on a calm day.
Engineers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution developed a thumb-sized underwater microphone attached to a buoy to listen for the whales.
Ten of the 13 buoys installed so far are in the shipping lane that runs to Boston through Stellwagen Bank, an underwater plateau at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay. Each can detect a whale within a five-mile radius.
Computers on the buoys separate the whale calls from other ocean noise, collect that data and periodically transmit the information to the Cornell lab, where researchers can contact navigators or call Clark’s cell phone with their findings.
“I get this little beep all the time, that says, ’You’ve got whales,’” he said.
When the system is complete, it will send the whales’ whereabouts by satellite to Cornell. From there, the information can be sent to a radio transmitter and broadcast to vessels.
Ships operated by Excelerate Energy and Neptune LNG, both shippers of natural gas, must brake to 10 knots in whale areas under the terms of their federal license. Other ship slowdowns are voluntary.
A proposed regulation under review by the White House would require all ships to slow to 10 knots if whales are in the area. Clark thinks that is a reasonable limit, but shippers object to the mandate for safety and economic reasons.
Container ship lines, they say, operate on tight schedules, so slowing down means adding time to a trip and risking higher costs and lost customers.
Metcalf, of the Chamber of Shipping, said reducing speeds to 10 knots can also reduce maneuverability. Her group is pushing for a provision to allow ships to increase speeds in whale areas if needed to safely navigate.
“There’s no doubt that anybody on a ship, given sufficient room to do it, would take all the avoidance behaviors in the world” to prevent a strike, she said.
On the Shearwater’s recent trip, whales could be seen surfacing amid whitecaps as a team sampled the reddish gooey plankton so researchers could study the whale’s food source.
Knowing more about the whales’ feeding habits could eventually help scientists forecast where the animals appear.
Meanwhile, Clark retrieved a malfunctioning listening buoy and repaired it.
Everything on the boat stopped when a female right whale who had apparently sent out a mating call rolled on her back and waved her flank as several suitors rushed to accept the invitation.
It was a hopeful sign, but Charles Mayo of Provincetown’s Center for Coastal Studies cautioned that the species remains on the edge of extinction, despite the sightings of as many as 80 right whales around Cape Cod Bay in the past month.
He wonders how many concessions can be pulled out of the shipping companies or the fishing industry, which is struggling to survive.
“So we slow vessels down, have we done well? Well, we’ve done as well as we could,” Mayo said. “But will that make the difference? Boy, we don’t know. It’s tough. It’s very tough.”
Posted by Brandie Jefferson at 10:08 AM
Arraignment for murder suspect today
An arraignment is scheduled today for a man accused of shooting killing an acquaintance last May after an argument.
Kelbyn Ramirez, also known as Kelvyn Ramirez, is accused of killing Aneuris Caceres, 21, in Providence. Ramirez left town after the shooting, and police put out a nationwide appeal for his whereabouts, calling him “armed and dangerous.”
He was arrested four months later in South Carolina during a traffic stop. Police in that state said he was the passenger in a car in which a drug sniffing dog found four pounds of marijuana in a duffel bag.
Ramirez faces murder one, and a firearms charge. According to the court calendar, he is to appear in Superior Court, Providence, in front of Magistrate Joseph A. Keough.
Posted by Brandie Jefferson at 9:50 AM
Can good science equal good politics?
How is science used in the political sphere?
Do the tenants of science and the results of research influence policy in a straightforward way? Or do political motivations interfere with which information is ultimately used to bolster support for legislation?
The U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works is holding a hearing this morning on Science and Environmental Regulatory Decisions, considering allegations that politicians have interfered with science at the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal departments.
The hearing (which will be Webcast) will touch on topics such as lead and particulate matter, two topics well known to Rhode Islanders; next week, the state’s Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in the state’s long-running case against companies that manufactured lead-based paint.
And a federal judge in January ruled that the state could continue with its suit against the federal government for preventing Rhode Island and 16 other states from setting its own vehicle emissions standards.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a member of the committee, is expected take part in the hearing, set to begin at 9:30 this morning, which will include testimony from a range of academics, researchers and industry representatives.
Click below for a full list of participants.
-- projo.com staff writer Brandie M. Jefferson
George Gray, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Research and Development, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Dr. Francesca Grifo, Senior Scientist, Director, Scientific Integrity Program, Union of Concerned Scientists
Dr. Paul Gilman, Chief Sustainability Officer, Covanta Energy Corporation
Dr. David Michaels, PhD, MPH, Research Professor and Associate Chairman, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, George Washington University
Dr. George Thurston, Professor of Environmental Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, Nelson Institute of Environmental Medicine
Dr. Roger O. McClellan, Private Advisor, Toxicology & Human Health Risk Analysis
Dr. Lorenz Rhomberg, Principal, Gradient Corporation
Dr. John Balbus, Chief Health Scientist, Environmental Defense Fund
Posted by Brandie Jefferson at 9:39 AM
Help for families facing foreclosure
The Mayor of Pawtucket and the state's Attorney General are announcing a new program to help families who may be in danger of losing their homes because of foreclosure.
James Doyle, Patrick Lynch, and representatives from housing advocacy groups are scheduled to meet this morning in front of a formerly foreclosed, vacant property in Pawtucket to announce details of an upcoming forum sponsored by the Blackstone Valley Foreclosure Assistance Forum.
"As the housing crisis deepens and more and more of our homeowners find themselves facing foreclosure," Lynch said in a statement, "it's imperative to provide information as soon as possible to help navigate the myriad challenges ahead."
The forum will include seminars on legal, consumer protection and financial issues; participants will also have an opportunity for one-on-one sessions with professionals.
The free forum is scheduled for June 7 and will be held at Jenks Junior High School from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Posted by Brandie Jefferson at 9:02 AM
Visit the Journal's booth at the Business Expo
PROVIDENCE -- From expert advice on decorating your home office to dining etiquette for the busy professional to fine tuning your résumé, several free seminars will be conducted today at The Providence Journal’s booth (#617) at the Business Expo, the Rhode Island Convention Center, downtown Providence.
11:30 a.m., Decorating Your Home Office from A-Z: Find out how to set up a home office that works for you.
1:00 p.m., Dining 101: Etiquette for Busy Professionals: Learn the proper dining etiquette for business luncheons and dinners
2:00 p.m., Tips and Tricks to Fine Tune Your Résumé: Transform your résumé with expert advice
The projo’s booth also features giveaways valued at $100 after each seminar, and an opportunity to enter a random drawing for a framed, keepsake projoSports poster signed by the projoSports writers and photographers who covered the Red Sox 2007 Banner year. For more information, go online to projo.com/businessexpo.
Posted by Jack Perry at 8:58 AM
Traffic Alert: Traffic at a stand-still on Route 195
Traffic on Route 195 in East Providence is snarled this morning after a fuel leak led to lane and exit closures.
The accident, on the westbound side of the roadway, has a right lane and exit ramp closed at Exit 6/Broadway/US 44. The road is like a parking lot -- find an alternate route if you can.
East Providence fire and police responded to the scene along with the Department of Environmental Management’s hazardous materials team.
According to the fire department, an initial investigation points to something on the roadway puncturing an SUV’s gas tank. One fire truck is still on site.
To see how traffic is moving along your commute, see the Transportation Management Center's Web cameras.
Posted by Brandie Jefferson at 8:40 AM
Airport corp. chief keynotes Business Expo, Day 2
PROVIDENCE -- The second and last day of Business Expo 2008 will be held today at the Rhode Island Convention Center, highlighted by a keynote address by Kevin Dillon, newly appointed president and chief executive officer of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation.
He will speak at the annual economic outlook luncheon at noon and is expected to discuss improvements at the T.F. Green Airport terminal, as well as the proposed runway expansion and construction of the intermodal facility.
Other speakers scheduled for today include: Susan Lisovicz, CNN’s primary correspondent on financial news; Jeffrey Meshel, author of One Phone Call Away: Secrets of a Master Networker; Ian and Shep Murray, founders of Vineyard Vines; and Lisa Bergeron, president of Leading Women Southeastern New England.
For more information, visit the chamber’s Web site at www.providencechamber.com
A number of other speakers, seminars and panel discussions are scheduled during the expo entitled, “Knowledge, Power, Opportunity.”
The event’s structure this year has been redesigned to give exhibitors and attendees more access to speakers and tools to help their businesses in areas such as networking, marketing and customer-focused selling.
About 350 exhibitors, representing nearly every industry in Rhode Island, are scheduled to display their goods and services on the showroom floor. One destination booth this year will highlight area companies that are embracing “green technology.”
Business Expo 2008 is presented by the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, with Bank of America the premier sponsor. Beacon Mutual Insurance Co., Cox Business Services and The Providence Journal Co. are the event’s presenting sponsors.
Posted by Andrea Panciera at 8:32 AM
Be prepared: It's almost D-Day for Mother's Day
This Sunday has a special place in the hearts of many women -- it's Mother's Day.
Yes, it may be a card-company opportunity, and exploited commercially. But if you know your Mom is into it, then be prepared.
To help out, Journal food editor Gail Ciampa has compiled a list of area restaurants serving brunches, buffets and other meals that may sound appetizing to the woman of the house.
Take a look at them here. And don't delay if you want to make a reservation. Some may already be booked up.
Thinking about buying a gift? Rita Lussier, a contributor to The Journal, has an idea here with a twist.
Aiming to say it with flowers? Better get your order in early, because it's a hectic time for florists. And as one local florist told this writer, you may find the price of delivering an arrangement has gone up to help cover the soaring price of gas.
And what about those cards? Well, if Mom's on e-mail, you can send an electronic version. Projo.com has a few to pick from here.
And to all moms, a happy Mother's Day. (Which, of course, includes my mom, Jill.)
Posted by Andrea Panciera at 7:40 AM
Testimony to resume in toddler T.J. Wright's murder
Testimony is set to resume today in the trial of a 24-year-old woman who faces murder charges after the beating death of her 3-year-old nephew, who had been left in her care.
Katherine Bunnell did slap, drag and pull Thomas "T.J." Wright around the Woonsocket apartment she and her boyfriend shared, her lawyer Gerard H. Donley said in court yesterday.
But, he argued in opening statements, the fatal blows were given by Bunnell's boyfriend, Gilbert Delestre, who also faces murder charges.
Wright was beaten so brutally 3½ years ago that he was declared brain dead and taken off life support.
Lt. Normand Galipeau, an officer who went to the couple's apartment the night of Wright's final beating, is scheduled to return to the witness stand today to testify in Superior Court, Providence.
Posted by Brandie Jefferson at 7:26 AM
Lawmakers to debate gay divorce legislation
PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- House lawmakers plan to debate two bills that would allow gay couples legally united elsewhere to divorce in Rhode Island courts.
The House Judiciary Committee was scheduled to hear testimony today on several bills related to gay unions, including a divorce proposal backed by the Democratic majority leader. A vote is not expected.
Lawmakers filed the divorce bill after Rhode Island's Supreme Court ruled in December that a lesbian couple married in Massachusetts cannot divorce in Rhode Island, where they live. Massachusetts is the only state to legalize gay marriage.
One of those women, Cassandra Ormiston, has said she may relocate to Massachusetts for a year so she can file for divorce there.
-- The Associated Press
Posted by Jack Perry at 7:01 AM
One more beauty before the rain
It's already nice outside, and it's only going to get better.
By 6:30, we were already seeing temperatures in the 50s and the National Weather Service is forecasting a high temperature near 74 degrees with southwest winds.
Tonight may bring some showers late, when temperatures drop to 55 degrees with more mild south winds.
There's also a chance that we may see a stop to these perfect days tomorrow with showers in the morning and possible thunderstorms in the afternoon. Otherwise, we'll have cloudy skies and temperatures near 68 degrees with west winds up to 18 mph.
To keep an eye on possible thunderstorms, see projo.com's weather page.
Posted by Brandie Jefferson at 7:01 AM
Today's front page
Today's front page features coverage of the Democrat primaries with the John Mulligan of the Journal's Washington bureau reporting from Indiana.
Download a copy of today's front page in .pdf format.
Posted by Jack Perry at 7:00 AM