Conimicut Lighthouse is at the center of the first substantive exchange between Warwick’s candidates for mayor.
Citing that Mayor Joseph Solomon was named to head the Conimicut Lighthouse Foundation 14 years ago, Republican Sue Stenhouse issued a press release including a photo of the light with a tree growing from it. She said the photo “sums up 14 years of ‘stewardship’ of Warwick's iconic Conimicut Lighthouse by Acting Mayor Joe Solomon. It is disheartening to see this historic landmark in such a deplorable condition."
“Solomon is solely responsible for the lack of any progress in the restoration of this property. As the head of the Foundation, it was Solomon's responsibility to apply for grants, look for partners and make the property viable,” she said.
Solomon sees it differently.
Interviewed Monday, he said that $500,000 in federal funds had been earmarked for restoration of the lighthouse but that those funds were diverted to other purposes by the administration of former Governor Donald Carcieri. Further, he noted that Stenhouse worked for the Carcieri administration.
“They came to the state,” Solomon asserted when asked if the funds were ever appropriated. “Unfortunately, they went somewhere else…diverted…hopefully not to 38 Studios.”
In response, Stenhouse called Solomon’s characterization that the funding was diverted by the Carcieri administration as “preposterous and ridiculous.” She said the $500,000 was part of a TIP grant that is 80 percent funded by the federal government and 20 percent by the state. She said because of the lack of activity regarding the lighthouse the money went “to other projects that had their acts together.” Eventually, she added, the project that would have gone to securing the lighthouse and cleanup was taken off the lineup for funding.
“The council president,” she said of Solomon, “has no idea of what he’s talking about.”
At the time the lighthouse was conveyed to the city in 2004, Stenhouse was on the City Council. She said that former Mayor Scott Avedisian appointed Solomon because he knew of his desire to save the historic light. And, in fact, as Solomon recalled Monday, he received the deed when the actual conveyance took place at the Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center in Conimicut.
Solomon questioned the presence of a tree growing at the light. He said city personnel visits the light a couple of times during the year and that it has been “sealed” to ensure that it is properly preserved. He also said that NOAA is involved in the operation of the light and that it has a role in national security.
City care of the light isn’t happening, according to Stenhouse.
"Solomon's lack of vision, planning and leadership is jeopardizing the viability of this iconic Warwick resource, as even the most basic upkeep has not been undertaken in the 14 years of his stewardship. The tree growing on the exterior, the grass growing on the roof and broken door are all symbols of promises unkept by Solomon and demonstrates a clear lack of responsibility when it comes to community resources," she said in her release.
“I am extremely concerned that Solomon’s inability to forge partnerships, garner fiscal support and lead members of the foundation will jeopardize the city’s ability to obtain other surplus properties, such as the Warwick Neck Lighthouse, in the future.”
Stenhouse said Solomon conducted two meetings as chair of the foundation over the past 14 years and that he was responsible as a member of the City Council for shooting down the proposal to convert it to a bed and breakfast.
Solomon questioned if the company that submitted the bid is still in business.
Solomon said that Rick Crenca, who at the time was overseeing the project as a member of the planning department, sought to convene foundation meetings but because of conflicting schedules that didn’t happen. He also said Avedisian did not name replacements to the foundation following the loss of some members.
“Since Solomon has unsuccessfully moved the needle over 14 years on this project, why would he not render his resignation and let someone with vision and resources take over?” Stenhouse asks.
In her release, she points out she was the governor’s liaison to the Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse when they were able to restore the light and finalize a lease with Exxon Mobil for use of the land as an educational and historic landmark.
“It was the result of consistent efforts and hard work by a group of dedicated individuals – and the restoration is magnificent,” she said. “There is no excuse for allowing the city’s principal tourism symbol to be treated in such a cavalier and careless manner. Is this what we want from someone seeking the corner office in City Hall?”
Stenhouse said she has reached out to the Department of Interior and the National Parks Service in hopes of answering whether they might revoke the lighthouse conveyance, a question that was raised when the lease proposal was denied by the City Council. She said she is awaiting return calls.
Asked if loss of the lighthouse is a possibility, Solomon said, “Sue lacks information. Unfortunately, she should know better.” He said there “are restrictions in place” that limit what the city can do and that he would willingly share those with Stenhouse if she requests them.
“It’s not going back to the federal government,” he said emphatically of the lighthouse.