The 2020 Top stories in The Block Island Times

Thu, 12/31/2020 - 5:45pm
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2020 was an unpredictable and challenging year to many. While the year was mostly dominated by Covid-19, Block Island also saw new projects started and new leadership in the community.

Here are The Block Island Times’s choices for the top news stories of 2020.

First Covid-19 case arrives on island, community takes action

The announcement of Covid-19 being present in the state of Rhode Island dates back to Feb. 2020 when the Rhode Island Department of Health issued a statement of possible Covid-19 presence in the state. The Town Council enacted an emergency ordinance on March 17, coming into full effect on March 24. Entities and organizations on the island quickly followed the council’s ordinances through mask wearing, social distancing, and use of sanitation.

The first Covid-19 case on the island was reported on April 27 by the Block Island Medical Center. A Covid-19 testing and response plan was presented by BIMC Director Dr. Tom Warcup at a Town Council meeting on May 20, with the plan divided into three categories: island residents, employers and employees, and day travelers. In November, the BIMC reported an increase in Covid-19 numbers, compared to the summer season. The BIMC was then designated as a Covid-19 vaccination site, announced Warcup at a Town Council meeting on Dec. 7. The first round of Moderna vaccines arrived at the BIMC on Monday, Dec. 28. As the vaccines become available, the BIMC will administer the vaccines to the community in accordance with the RI DOH guidelines.

Dr. Clark resigns. New medical team introduced at BI Medical Center

On Feb. 10, The Times was informed by members of the Block Island Health Services Board of Directors that Dr. Mark Clark would leave his position as Medical Director of the Medical Center in midMay, and a new team, comprised of a primary care physician, Dr. Tom Warcup, and an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse, Laurie Anderson, would arrive about the time Dr. Clark departed. Warcup was previously at the University of North Carolina Health Alliance, and Anderson had been an emergency care nurse at South County Hospital.

Block Island School transitions to distance learning for first time

As physical distancing commenced on the island in March, the Block Island School closed its doors to follow safety procedures being implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic. The school transitioned to its first week of online learning for the first time in history on March 23.

Walks for Justice sparked by national protests

The national wave of protests in the United States over the killing of George Floyd sparked weekly Walks for Justice on the island in early June. Some residents of the Block Island community quickly came together and organized the walks to stand in solidarity with the movement, to address the increased racial injustices in the U.S.

Town Council, moped operators work towards agreement; community forms coalition to discuss moped safety

Members of the Town Council communicated with moped rental operators over the summer season to address the call from the community for improved safety measures. There was an increase in moped accidents this summer over the previous summer, putting a strain on the Volunteer Fire and Rescue Departments and Block Island Medical Center. Both received an increased number of calls during an already stressful time, due to the global pandemic.

In an effort to address the increased moped accidents, the #RespectBI coalition was formed by community members with its primary goal to have new moped safety guidelines in place by 2021. Members of the Block Island Medical Center, Police Department, Town Council, Rescue Squad and concerned residents of the community joined the coalition’s first community meeting on Thursday, Aug. 20 to address thoughts and strategies on moped reform, safety and enforcement.

Financial Town Meeting postponed to July; three major bond issues approved

The annual Financial Town Meeting, normally held in May, was postponed to Monday, July 27 due to health and safety guidelines included in the town’s emergency ordinance adopted in March. Three bond issues were on the ballot: the island wide broadband project targeted at $8 million; the High Street/Payne Road water main replacement project at $1.3 million; and a roads upgrade project for $1 million. All three projects were approved by the voters.

New Town Manager Maryanne Crawford steps in

After seeking a full-time Town Manager, for many months, the Town posted an announcement on July 8 that Maryanne Crawford was to be named the new Town Manager of the Town of New Shoreham. Crawford was previously the Chief Financial Officer of the South Kingstown school system, and Town Administrator of Jamestown, R.I. for six years. She officially joined the Town of New Shoreham on Aug. 24.

Broadband project moving forward

During a Town Council meeting on Sept. 9, the Town Council unanimously approved the issuance of an $8 million bond for the long-awaited island-wide broadband network. The broadband project has been years in the making, with the project’s current schedule projecting customers coming online throughout summer 2021. Sertex Broadband Solutions will be performing the installation of the project’s fiber lines on the island. Crocker Communications has been selected as the Internet Services Provider.

Cherry Hill Lane development complete

The Cherry Hill Lane development project, which was created in response to the lack of affordable housing in a town where some of the lower-priced homes hover around the $1 million mark, was wrapped up in September after many years in the making.

Cable reburial project commences

The depth of the undersea transmission cables to the mainland and the Block Island Wind Farm has been problematic almost since the beginning.

The cable reburial project, undertaken by National Grid and Ørsted, involves drilling through bedrock to rebury two halfmile long sections of the undersea cables, with new cables to be spliced onto the existing cables that connect the island, the Block Island Wind Farm, and the mainland. National Grid has stated that its portion of the project will cost $30 million. The Block Island Times previously verified from two independent sources that the Ørsted portion of the project will cost more or less the same, bringing the total cost of the project to about $60 million. The reburial project began in October, and has an anticipated completion date before Memorial Day 2021.

Champlin’s denied marina expansion, appeals later to Supreme Court

After almost two decades of litigation, Rhode Island Superior Court issued a ruling on Feb. 11, against the expansion of Champlin’s Marina. But, on Oct. 20, The Rhode Island State Supreme Court decided to hear an appeal of the lower court’s decision denying Champlin Marina’s application to expand into the Great Salt Pond. Oral arguments are expected to begin in 2021.

New Town Council members elected in 2020

On Nov. 3, the following people were announced as the winners of the 2020 election conducted at the Block Island School and Town Hall: First Warden André Boudreau, Second Warden Sven Risom, and Councilors Martha Ball, Mark Emmanuelle, and Keith Stover. The newly-elected Town Council members were sworn in at their first meeting as a council, on Dec. 7 by Town Clerk Molly Fitzpatrick.

Grove project approved

The ongoing Grove project, situated behind the Gables Inn off of Dodge Street, was approved at the Nov. 19 Zoning Board meeting. The application is seeking to construct an inn for employee housing and to relocate Cutting Cottage to this lot. Lark Hotels currently owns the Grove project, Block Island Beach House and the Gables Inn.

Editor Lars Trodson leaves The Block Island Times, with Renée Meyer as the new editor

After serving eight consecutive years at The Block Island Times as the editor, Lars Trodson will be starting a new venture as the new Executive Director of the Block Island Chamber of Commerce starting on Monday, Jan. 4, replacing Cindy Lasser, who is stepping down from her position. Succeeding Trodson at The Times, Renée Meyer has been named the new editor of the paper, and started in her current position on Monday, Dec. 28. Meyer has been involved with The Times dating back to 1999.

Honorable Mentions

• The Boys Varsity Basketball Hurricanes team took home the state championship in the Coastal Prep League after winning the final game against the Grove School on March 7.

• The Mary D. Fund received a $200,000 donation to help the Fire and Rescue Departments and Medical Center in late November.

• The Block Island Conservancy earned national recognition in their commitment to public trust and conservation excellence in January.

• Restoration work at the Southeast Lighthouse was honored and recognized at the Rhody Awards for Historic Preservation at the Rhode Island State House on Nov. 15.

• Firearms hunting was delayed to December due to high visitation to the island during the Covid-19 pandemic.