Improper mowing garners CRMC notices

Following investigation
Fri, 04/27/2018 - 8:30am
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Two different property owners on Block Island have been cited by the town and the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council for clear cutting land to a coastal feature without securing the proper permitting first.

“You can’t just indiscriminately mow a path to a coastal feature without obtaining the appropriate permits,” said New Shoreham Building Official Marc Tillson to the The Block Island Times. Clear cutting means cutting vegetation down to the earth. A coastal feature is a sand dune, or bluff along the shoreline.

Tillson said owners of two separate private pieces of land, Shannon E. Chandley and Christopher Gorayeb, were being issued cease and desist notices following an investigation by the Coastal Resources Management Council. Restitution by the owners could involve paying a fine, as well as land restoration, including the planting of vegetation. Gorayeb chose not to comment on the matter, and The Times was not able to reach Chandley by press time.

Laura Dwyer, a spokesperson for the CRMC, told The Times that, “The property owners will have the standard 10 days to contact the CRMC to begin rectifying the violations.”

Tillson said the property owners engaged an island contractor to mow a significant amount of land to access a coastal feature. Tillson said “clear cutting,” and “burning brush” to make a pathway to access a coastal feature is not allowed without obtaining a CRMC permit. 

“Clear cutting without appropriate permits leads to legal action and fines, as allowed by law, if it goes that far,” said Tillson noting that mowing “disturbs habitats” and leads to “soil erosion.” Tillson said the contractors that were hired may also be issued notices by the CRMC, and be subjected to paying fines.

According to Tillson, Chandley instructed a contractor to mow a 700-foot long and 20-foot wide path east to west across her property, as well as land owned by The Nature Conservancy, The Block Island Conservancy and the Town of New Shoreham near Skipper’s Island Pond off Corn Neck Road. 

The other involved Gorayeb clear cutting a sizable swath of the hilltop of his Champlin Road property before burning brush on-site. Tillson reported the March 28 violation by Gorayeb after smelling and observing burning brush during a walk along the western shoreline.

Tillson said the Skipper’s Island Pond incident, which he investigated on April 9, could be considered trespassing, as well. He recommended that the two conservancies, and the Town of New Shoreham file reports with the New Shoreham Police Department. Tillson said the town and the Block Island Conservancy have filed police reports.

Tillson said contractors should check with property owners to see if they have acquired the appropriate CRMC permits before conducting mowing activity. “The Building Department is not only for building questions, but land use questions as well, regarding what you can, and can’t do environmentally on your property,” said Tillson.

The subject of the mowing was discussed at a recent Town Council meeting, when Councilor Sven Risom asked the Town Council to place the item on an agenda for a future meeting to discuss “putting a protective zone around the Great Salt Pond, and other waterways. These are critical assets that need to be protected.”

Councilor Martha Ball said the town’s zoning ordinance provides a protective area in Section 318, which denotes a 50-foot Waterfront Overlay area. The ordinance states: “This section shall apply to all of the land area between the mean high water of all tidal waters and a line fifty (50) feet landward thereof together with the abutting waters over which the Town has legal jurisdiction, either along with or concurrent with other State or Federal regulatory agencies.” 

“Having a zone is one thing, but I think what we need to do is have CRMC enforce the property, with input from the town, and levy a fine,” said resident Chris Blane. “I would like to think that no contractor, based here on Block Island, would do such a thing. But maybe I’m wrong.”

“This is the second time that town property has been mowed,” added Blane, who noted that the town should take a survey of the area and implement boundary markers to ensure town property is easily identifiable. “The first time the town paid a fine, because it’s town land. The town should have gone after the contractor that mowed on town land.”

In response, First Warden Ken Lacoste said, “It behooves us all to be more diligent in terms of what we see going on, and question, or report, what we see going on in these sensitive areas.”