Town removes Cooneymus beach fort

Says it was a safety hazard
Fri, 08/18/2017 - 9:45am
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“We had a bit of a situation on a beach on the southwest corner of the island, and some action was taken.”

That is what First Warden Ken Lacoste said during the Warden’s Report at the Town Council’s meeting on Wednesday. He then turned the discussion over to Town Manager Shirlyne Gobern who read from a statement.

“The beach fort at the end of Cooneymus Road has been taken down at the request of the Town Manager,” said Gobern. “It was constructed above the mean high water line, which by State Law, Article 1 Section 17, is private property. The (beach fort) structure violated numerous Block Island and state regulations, and imposed safety and liability issues.”

Gobern said the town “determined that the beach fort was an illegal, unsafe structure, which needed to be removed. In making that determination the Coastal Resources Management Council was consulted, and agreed. It posed a fire hazard in a location where Fire and Rescue access would be extremely difficult. It also served as an attractive nuisance resulting in un-permitted beach fires, underage drinking, and accumulating trash.” ”

Gobern told The Block Island Times after the meeting that the structure was removed by a private contractor at a cost of about $300. She said, “The Building Official and Fire Chief all deemed it a hazard. You can’t put a price on avoiding a potential safety issue.”

First Warden Ken Lacoste told The Times that fort removal has “been done before” on the island. “We felt the town had some responsibility not to encourage that kind of thing, and it needed to be done.” Lacoste said that although the structure was situated on private property, the town removed it “in the interest of public safety, and protecting the shoreline.”

“It has legs on social media,” added Lacoste, “and the town needed to make a stand. We don’t condone any kind of vigilante behavior. It was close enough to the beach to be a public safety issue, so we took the responsibility of getting rid of it.”

In her statement to the Town Council, Gobern said if the town “did not act, and someone was injured, or property damaged was incurred, the town could have been held negligent in protecting all of our citizens. As public officials we have a responsibility to protect the welfare and safety of all matters of our community, and enforce local and state laws. We ask that everyone be respectful of our beautiful island, and observe the rules that are in place to maintain the safety and enjoyment of all. It is unfortunate that a single property owner has been vilified during the course of the online dialogue about this controversial structure, and the rights of citizens and private property owners. In fact, state and local laws are very clear, that regardless of the private/public location of the structure, it is still an illegal structure posing numerous safety hazards and damage to our fragile coastal ecosystem, and would have been removed regardless.”

Gobern closed with: “While we understand it is everyone’s right to enjoy the beach, it is not everyone’s right to encroach on public areas and create potential damage and safety issues.”

In other news, by a vote of 4-0, with Councilor André Boudreau abstaining, the Town Council appointed Facilities Manager Sam Bird as its qualified elector for its 30 metered electric accounts. Bird will cast vote the town’s ballot for matters pertaining to the Block Island Utility District. 

Bird told The Times that “it should be made clear that my being the town’s appointed qualified elector does not mean I will vote my own preferences, but rather I will cast the town’s vote” for the five candidates that are selected by the Town Council. 

The next Town Council meeting is Tuesday, Sept. 5 at 7 p.m.