Land Use

Ties Between Controversial Wetland Development in Cumberland and Family of Governor’s Chief of Staff Deepen

The Canning Street property is overgrown with trees and wedged between two homes. (Brian P. D. Hannon/ecoRI News)

CUMBERLAND, R.I. — The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is getting pushback from local officials after approving the controversial development of a freshwater wetland property proposed by the son of Gov. Dan McKee’s chief of staff, despite objections from the town and local property owners.

Property records show the tree-filled Canning Street parcel is owned by Ross Silva, son of Tony Silva, the governor’s longtime confidant.

The younger Silva bought the property at 45 Canning St. from Joan Mooney on July 14 — a month after DEM approved development plans — for a sale price of $17,500.

The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the property’s links to McKee’s chief of staff.

On July 21, the Town Council unanimously passed a motion to hire attorney Marisa Desautel, who specializes in environmental and regulatory law, to protect the town’s interests relating to due process and the lack of a public hearing before DEM.

Town Council member Lisa Beaulieu, who filed the motion to retain legal help, told ecoRI News, “I think it was protecting the best interest of the town.” She said the town has been advised to refrain from further comment as the case enters the court system.

Concern about the proposed development on the small lot has been repeatedly logged by neighbors and town officials during the past two years.

Planning director Jonathan Stevens sent letters to DEM opposing the development in November 2019 and again this past April. He said the development could disrupt the existing drainage system and negatively impact an area already plagued by chronic flooding.

The development, Stevens wrote, would disturb at least 5,196 square feet of wetland property — or an “astonishing” 93 percent of the 5,600-square-foot lot.

“The proposed ratio of disturbance to lot size is extremely excessive and unreasonable,” he wrote in 2019.

The planning director anticipates adverse effects for downstream residents and requested that DEM deny the application, “as granting approval will not be in the best public interest.”

According to The Valley Breeze, which first reported the story, many neighbors have questioned DEM’s approval of the development and have shown concern that no public hearing was held on the matter. DEM assistant to the director Gail Mastrati told the newspaper that the state agency found wildlife would not be “significantly harmed despite some filling of the wetland in question” and no hearing was necessary due to flooding mitigation measures taken by the applicant.

In a July 21 letter to DEM, Mayor Jeff Mutter noted the town strongly objected to this permit application not once, but twice, and requested more information regarding DEM’s approval process.

“I respectfully request RIDEM reconsider its approval of this permit,” he wrote. “I would also appreciate an explanation as to why the permit was approved and why a hearing was never held.”

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