Broadband project delayed
The New Shoreham Town Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to adopt the warrant for the May 1 Financial Town Meeting, but the notable news was the Council’s decision to delay the broadband initiative for about six months and consider a scaled down version of the project.
In making the motion to delay the project, First Warden Ken Lacoste said Tilson Technology’s $8.3 million proposal elicited “reservations,” feelings of “outright hostility,” and “sticker shock” from members of the island community. As a result, Lacoste said he felt the town needed to “put some more thought into” the project and gain greater information from similar communities that have installed networks.
Lacoste floated the idea of the Council forming a new broadband advisory group comprised of stakeholders and other select individuals to advise on the subject moving forward. He suggested the notion of a scaled down, more affordable version of the project that could involve wiring only the essential town buildings, like Town Hall, the Medical Center, Police Station, Block Island School and Island Free Library, with the rest of the island to be determined at a later date.
During the discussion, the Town Council stressed that it would be a brief delay of no more than six months to decide on a new approach for installing the broadband network. Councilor Chris Willi said he felt the Council and the town could gather more information within that time period to make a more informed decision on broadband.
“This will be a short delay — a second opinion, to get more questions answered,” said Willi. “I have a problem with the dollar amount. It’s an approximately $6 million dollar project with a 30 percent contingency. I’d rather have a $4 million project...”
“We’ll still be moving forward in a timely fashion,” said Second Warden Norris Pike. “As long as we’re moving forward (with the broadband project) I’m comfortable with that.”
As for when the Town Council would reconvene to discuss the project, Lacoste said, “I don’t want to set a date and be constrained by it.”
“I want to thank you for including the library,” said Library Director Kristin Baumann. A previously discussed scaled back broadband proposal did not include the library.
“I’m very grateful that you’re holding off,” said resident Edie Blane.
Lacoste, who had been gung-ho about the project, explained the reason for his change of heart. “I come from a family of carpenters,” he noted. “The saying is, ‘Measure twice and cut once.’”
Regarding the warrant for the FTM, Finance Director Amy Land noted “two special items” — for the town to fund a new fire truck for an amount not to exceed $500,000, and an amount not to exceed $350,000 for renovations of the Fred Benson Beach Pavilion. Land said the total estimate for the four-wheel drive fire engine is $750,000, and the Fire Department will pay the balance for the purchase from its restricted fund.
Land explained that the beach pavilion project requires funding an additional $350,000, which “would bring the total potential funding up to $940,000.” At the 2014 FTM, voters approved a $350,000 bond for the project, and in Oct. of 2016, the town received a $240,000 DEM recreation grant for the project. In addition, Land said the town “will still continue to pursue DEM grants for $400,000” to help fund the project.
Town Clerk Molly Fitzpatrick said that this year’s FTM on May 1 at 7 p.m. at the Block Island School will include an electronic check-in. Fitzpatrick said the system’s scanner will read the barcode on the back of a person’s driver’s license, and “help move the line quicker.”
Breed Land Management Plan
In other news, Kim Gaffett presented the Town Council with a Breed Land Management Plan aimed at an ecological approach to maintenance of the wildlife sanctuary on the property. “It’s time to start paying attention to the property,” she said, noting that a mowing regimen needs to be established.
Resident hunter Chris Blane disagreed with Gaffett regarding mowing, maintenance and parking on the property. Blane read from the original deed, stating that: “The topography of the land should remain the same,” he said, while noting that people should park in the rights-of-way on the property. “The deed doesn’t say anything about (prohibiting) parking.”
Gaffett said she thought “people should park on Corn Neck Road if they want to access the property. That should be the town’s policy.” She added: “I only care about the ecological stuff, and the town’s rights. I hope you will adopt it. It’s a reasonable ecological plan.”
Blane said that he didn’t necessarily think the Town Council, nor the town, should oversee the Breed property. He asked for a legal opinion, and said that a group like The Nature Conservancy could govern the property.
The Town Council took Gaffett’s plan under advisement, and will continue the discussion at a future meeting.
Under the advisement of Interim Town Manager Shirlyne Gobern, who consulted with Highways Supervisor Mike Shea, the Town Council voted unanimously not to close the Mill Pond Bridge for the summer season. The Town Council decided to maintain the alternate stop signs on Old Town Road, and take precautions to ensure pedestrian safety, including installing lighting and a temporary walkway for pedestrians.
“I think it’s the best idea to leave it open,” said Pike.
Gobern told the Council that bids for the project will go out during the summer, and renovations of the bridge and road will commence in the fall.
The next Town Council meeting is Tuesday, May 2 at 7 p.m.