Just what are the biggest stories of the year? Most listed here were not the top stories of the year, as presented earlier this week. Rather, we chose those stories that we believe will have lasting ramifications for the town. You may disagree – there may be stories you think should have been here. We would LOVE to know what you think. Here’s our list (let us know your thoughts in the comments!):
The story that made the biggest splash beyond our borders as well as getting the attention of both residents and the EG Town Council, was about the medical waste plant proposed for Division Road just over the border into West Warwick. The story itself began in 2020 but things heated up (sorry!) in 2021, when opposition to the plant – which planned to use a high-heat method called pyrolysis to burn the waste – got organized and recruited state legislators, including EG’s Rep. Justine Caldwell and Sen. Bridget Valverde. It was their legislation to outlaw such high-heat waste facilities that prompted the Department of Environmental Management to decide against issuing a necessary permit for the project. The story isn’t over, however. Medrecycler, the company behind the project, has appealed the DEM decision.
Here are some of the stories we ran about project:
GA Approves Bill Targeting Med-Recycler
Caldwell, Valverde Oppose Proposed Medical Waste Facility
Protesters Up Volume Against Med-Recycler
Dozens Decry Med Waste Facility During Hearing
Medrecycler to be Financed w/$17 Million in RI Tax Exempt Bonds
There was also a lot of development news in 2021. The housing boomlet continued, with the completion of phase one of a 96-unit apartment complex for low to moderate income residents on South County Trail and 68 units approved for Main Street and Greenwich Avenue (at and behind the American Legion Post, which will be demolished). In addition, the Planning Board saw an initial plan for 400 units off Division Road – by far the largest development proposed for town in decades, although no formal application has yet been submitted.
This boom looks different from those of the past 50 years. Instead of houses on 1 or 2 acres, these new developments are significantly denser. That is concerning to some in town government, particularly regarding the potential effect on the schools. The Town Council has asked the Planning Board to come up with ways to slow development although at least two members of the Planning Board and members of the Affordable Housing Commission argue that East Greenwich can and should be more open to development. This discussion will most certainly continue in 2022.
The other development story of the year concerned buildings within the historic district that were – in one instance in 2021 – demolished or rehabbed into condominiums. One last significant planning/development story of 2021 was the departure of longtime Planning Director Lisa Bourbonnais.
Here are some of our development and planning stories:
Planning Board Tackles Development Concerns
Should EG Slow Growth or Put Out Welcome Mat?
VIDEO: Duke St. Building Demolished to Make Way for Townhouses
HDC Weighs Norman’s Facelift, So. Pierce Farmhouse Plan, Blu ‘Sound Box’
Warehouse Demolition Makes Way for Townhouses
Planning Director Bourbonnais Leaves Job
Of course, COVID-19 remained a big story here and everywhere. East Greenwich was one of the few municipalities that hosted a vaccine clinic. That work continues even now, with recent student vaccine clinics at Swift. It started in the cold and snowy days of late December and early January, with the oldest of our residents lining up to get their shots. Many town employees staffed the clinics as did many health care volunteers and regular EG residents, eager to lend a hand. It was a proud moment for East Greenwich.
Read about the vaccine clinics here:
Another aspect of the ongoing pandemic has been the challenges faced by families, students and school staff. Distance learning did not work for most students. As the 2020-21 school year progressed, parents chafed at the lack of full in-person learning for middle and high school students. That changed in April, but lingering frustration with what some parents said was a lack of control over their own children was the debate over masks in school that took place last summer. In the end, the School Committee voted in favor of masking in school during periods of high COVID-19 transmission just before Gov. Dan McKee ordered a mask mandate for all K-12 public schools. The district has not moved out of “high transmission” since the start of the 2021-22 school year and the omicron variant has only driven up cases. Students do not have to wear masks outdoors but they do need to wear them most of the time indoors.
Read more about the schools and the mask debate here:
Letter to the Editor: Expand In-Person School to Middle, High School
‘Do We Have Rights?’ Anti-School-Mask-Mandate Parents Gather
Op/Ed: Mask Our Children
School Committee Weighs Mask Policy Amid Strong Feelings
School Committee Approves Mask Mandate
Another story we followed in 2021 was the trial of Barbara Trojan for the death of Patty Daniels in a drunk driving accident in Sept. 2020. The case got stalled during the pandemic but Trojan finally pled guilty in July. She was sentenced in October.
Two other notable stories from 2021 were the possibility that East Greenwich would be split into two House districts, with Dist. 30 taking all of the town but the portion from Main Street to the water. No one seems to like this plan. Read about it HERE.
And, finally, it was the end of an era in June when Pal’s Restaurant closed for good, most likely to make way for condominiums. We talked with the owner/chef and some patrons HERE.