WOONSOCKET – Plans for a $2.6 million overhaul of neglected World War II State Park, with new recreational facilities, are on hold until the city either assumes ownership of the park or picks up a share of the long-term operational costs of the facility.
That was the word from Janet Coit, director of the state Department of Environmental Management, during an appearance before the Budget Commission on Thursday.
Coit said DEM has engineering drawings on hand, and the money to execute them, but the agency believes it would be unwise to do so in the absence of a long-term plan to staff and maintain the park, which could cost up to $325,000 a year.
“It would be irresponsible to do a great big improvement without some kind of plan to take care of it,” she said. “That’s really the major issue that’s in front of this group right now.”
Two members of the legislature were in the spectator section of Harris Hall to take in Coit’s remarks, including State Rep. Lisa Baldelli Hunt (D-Dist. 49), who has made rescuing the park a linchpin of her legislative agenda.
She didn’t like what she was hearing. Lecturing Coit, Baldelli Hunt told the DEM director there was no reasonable basis for her position, likening the state’s continued neglect of the inner city park to a kind of discrimination.
“What I think is happening is, this is a bit of class warfare,” Baldelli Hunt said. “It’s no secret Woonsocket is looked down upon, no matter how much we try to raise ourselves up, things like this happen. We are singled out, there’s no question about that....we are the child that’s left behind.”
Baldelli Hunt was incredulous that the state seems to have enough money to staff and maintain the beaches of South County and a number of other suburban sanctuaries, including one with a golf course. Arguably, Woonsocket residents need a summertime refuge more than many of the others because its population demographics include a high concentration of children from poor families and senior citizens, many of whom lack the access to transportation they need to travel to desirable parks outside the city.
The state, she said, has simply turned its back on World War II Park.
“What seems to have happened here is that the state of Rhode Island has forgotten it’s actually a state park, it’s not a city park. It doesn’t belong to the municipality. It belongs to the state of Rhode Island,” said Baldelli Hunt.
Read more in our print edition.