Dinghy dock inquiry sparks dialogue

Fri, 05/18/2018 - 10:00am
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The Block Island Boat Basin did not violate a 1998 order by the Coastal Resources Management Council when it shut down half of the dinghy dock last summer season, according to Town Manager Ed Roberge. An upshot of the discussion is that some space at the dinghy dock may be available for public use next summer.

After an hour-long discussion on the matter by the members of the Town Council, First Warden Ken Lacoste voiced the opinion of the entire council when he said “no action” would be taken on the request of the Harbors Committee to look into the matter.

Harbors Committee member Gary Pollard had written to the Town Council on April 16 to look into the matter, claiming that “the 100 foot dock, known as the ‘dinghy dock,’ can only be used as a public dinghy dock. CRMC defines a dinghy as a boat under 12 feet in length.” Pollard wrote that the Block Island Boat Basin “rented out half of its dinghy dock to seasonal renters. Most, if not all of the boats in those slips were over 12-feet in length. As such, the Block Island Boat Basin was operating in direct violation of CRMC’s 1998 assent.”

The Block Island Boat Basin, located adjacent to The Oar restaurant off of West Side Road, was granted the 1998 assent “for dinghy dockage,” with an assented capacity for docking up to 120 boats. Town Manager Ed Roberge said, “I don’t see a clear violation,” and informed the Town Council that, “There is nothing that suggests that the dock was dedicated to being public in nature, or that there was any length limitations. I wouldn’t recommend any action, or reporting a violation to the CRMC.” Pollard, nor any other members of the Harbors Committee, attended the meeting.

Roberge said the Harbors Committee’s “request was somewhat confusing,” but offered the town, as well as himself, the “opportunity to continue communication with the Boat Basin.” Roberge noted that the request helped him to better “understand the changes in the usage of the dinghy dock last year, which raised the ire of a pretty good section of the community.”

He also said his investigation into the Harbors Committee’s request led to discussions with the Block Island Boat Basin operator Tony Edwards, members of the CRMC, members of the Harbors Committee, New Shoreham Harbormaster Steve Land, and Town Council members.

Roberge also noted that language in the Wronowski’s plan calls for a “public dinghy dock” to be built near Payne’s Dock. 

“The best thing that came out of this was a clear and open conversation — a communication,” said Roberge. “I think we need to have that more often than not. We should be talking about this directly.” He encouraged town boards and committees to have an open dialogue.

Roberge said he spoke with Edwards about “the possibility of returning the Boat Basin’s dinghy dock back to its operation as it was before. We would like to see that, and whether or not there is something that we can do to assist in that.”

Speaking at the meeting, Edwards said he thought that something could be worked out regarding the dock, but “was a little offended that nobody at the Harbors Committee, or on this Town Council could pick up the telephone and call me to say there was an issue with the dinghy dock. That dock, as you well know, has been a public dinghy dock at the harbor for the last 35 years. You should be thanking us for having that dock there.”

“There is no violation,” said Edwards, who noted that last summer “we had to close one side of the dock because boats on the offshore side of the dock were getting damaged” because of abuse by boaters. “But having an agenda item like this really undermines the actions of your town manager, and I’m offended by it.”

The Town Council’s agenda stated that item number four concerned acting on “referral by Harbors Committee regarding violation of CRMC 1998 assent of the B.I. Boat basin dinghy dock.”

“I certainly apologize, Tony,” said Lacoste. “You’re right. The wording on the agenda should have been noted as ‘alleged.’ We didn’t pick up on that.”

At the conclusion of the discussion, Second Warden André Boudreau asked Edwards, “To be clear, might there be some dinghy dock space available at the Block Island Boat Basin this summer?”

“We’re working towards that,” said Edwards. “There are some issues that we have to deal with, but it’s a good possibility.”

The next Town Council meeting is scheduled for Monday, June 4 at 7 p.m.