Council tackling beach access points

Per report from working group
Fri, 07/14/2017 - 10:30am
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First Warden Ken Lacoste stands at the dais reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at the Town Council’s July 5 meeting. Photo by Cassius Shuman

The New Shoreham Town Council is heeding the Shoreline Access Working Group’s recommendations that six of the island’s 43 shoreline access points be prioritized to address their various problems. 

At its July 5 meeting, the Town Council, absent Councilor Chris Willi, decided to enact a strategy to address the following access points: Breed Property, Andy’s Way, Southwest Point, Charleston Beach, Grace’s Cove and the end of Champlin Road at Coast Guard Beach. First Warden Ken Lacoste said the item was placed on the agenda per a letter sent to the Town Council from the Block Island Residents Association.

“We need to act,” said Second Warden Norris Pike. “That’s clear. We need maintenance carried out.” Pike noted that the need to address the access points had “slipped through the cracks.”

Resident Chris Blane, who served on the Shoreline Access Working Group that drafted the 150-page report in 2015, said, “The town has not been taking care of” its responsibility in maintaining the access points. “There’s no sense in (drafting a report) if no one is going to do anything with it. I’m happy to come back to keep pestering the Town Council about it.”

The six-member Shoreline Access group was comprised of Chair Mike Shea, and members Doug Michel, Blane, Gary Ryan, Sven Risom and Marc Tillson.

Blane said that volunteers could be utilized, “and wouldn’t cost the town a penny,” to maintain the rights-of-way. Blane noted that he would be willing to do some of the mowing maintenance himself.

In response, Pike said, “It’s a slippery slope to use volunteers.” Pike said the town needs to prioritize the issues, enlist the services of Town Engineer Jim Geremia for some of the work, and fund additional staff for the Highways Department so that the rights-of-way can be properly maintained.

Highways Superintendent Mike Shea, who was in attendance at the meeting, said that his staff is occupied with its regular island maintenance work. “We do what we can,” he said, noting that for the past 24 years the Breed property has been maintained without the town’s assistance.

“If Mike needs extra guys to handle the maintenance maybe we can fund that department’s budget to give him more staff,” said Pike. 

Shea’s crew refurbished access to Mohegan Bluffs as part of the stairway project. (See related article on page 5.) Former First Warden Kim Gaffett said she felt that Andy’s Way was a shoreline access point that was “critical,” and needs attention. Gaffett suggested that the Town Council start the planning now so that the item could be put on the next budget.

“That area gets a lot of use,” said Gaffett. “You have to be pretty agile to get through there.” Gaffett recommended installing a wooden boardwalk that would be handicap accessible for Andy’s Way.   

After a spirited discussion ensued, sparked by Blane asserting that “benign neglect” by the town was leading to the rights-of-way becoming dense and virtually impassable, Lacoste remarked that the issue was now “back on the Town Council’s radar.” Lacoste said the Town Council “needs to come up with a plan, and a direction” to address and maintain the town’s shoreline access points.

“Everything on the island grows fast in a very short period of time,” said Councilor Martha Ball, who became engaged in an impassioned back and forth with Blane over the nuances of maintaining the Breed Property that ended with Lacoste saying, “Stop! We will sort this out.”

“Shirlyne, can you keep this on our radar?” Lacoste asked interim Town Manager Shirlyne Gobern. “We’ll start paying more attention to it. The Town Council needs to keep on top of this.”

“I’m very happy that we are having a spirited conversation about our access points,” said Councilor André Boudreau, who noted that it was “important.”

In other news, the Town Council unanimously adopted the Block Island Hazard Mitigation Plan of 2017, in accordance with the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000. According to the Council’s resolution, the Hazard “Mitigation Plan identifies mitigation goals and actions to reduce or eliminate risks to people and property in New Shoreham from the impacts of future hazards and disasters.”

Gobern said that the plan has been in the works for “seven years,” and will allow the town to apply for grants.

Pledge of Allegiance

During the public comment portion of the meeting, resident Bob Fallon, who is a member of the American Legion, led the Pledge of Allegiance. While Fallon and a few audience members stood facing the flag and recited the Pledge, Lacoste was the only Town Council member who participated.

Prior to leading the recitation of the Pledge, Fallon said, “At a Town Council meeting in May, which I attended, the topic was the Pledge of Allegiance. During that meeting it had been suggested that if anyone wanted to say the Pledge of Allegiance that there was the opportunity to do that during public comment. And with that I am going to say the Pledge of Allegiance.” 

The next Town Council meeting is at Town Hall on Wednesday, July 19 at 7 p.m.