Anchoring field may violate CRMC policy

Fri, 03/23/2018 - 9:45am

Is the area of the Great Salt Pond where boaters have been permitted to anchor for many years in violation of the Coastal Resources Management Council’s policies?  

Erik Elwell of the Harbors Committee seems to think so.

“Our entire anchorage field is in Type I waters,” he said at the Committee’s latest meeting.

Type I waters are designated as conservation areas by the CRMC, and neither anchoring nor moorings are permitted in them. Elwell said the area designated by the town for anchoring has been used “for longer than the CRMC’s been in existence.” 

Elwell proposed “getting rid of anchoring” and installing more rental moorings instead. In addition to the prohibition of anchoring in Type I waters, he felt that the use of anchors was environmentally detrimental. “Every time an anchor goes in and out it disturbs” the bottom of the pond, which he said could impact water quality and lead to algal blooms.

The subject was discussed at length by members of the Committee. Co-Chair Arlene Tunney said that people had been coming out Block Island and anchoring their boats “for decades.”

Member Bob Littlefield said that people who come out and have their boats on anchors “can’t afford to be on a mooring for two weeks.”

“Those people are still spending money on Block Island,” said Harbors Department Assistant Susanna Lehman. 

Rental moorings currently cost $45 per night, but Elwell proposed charging only $20 for the new moorings. He said the designations of water types “doesn’t make sense.”

“Who came up with this? asked Tunney.

“CRMC,” said Elwell.

“When? asked Tunney.

“1979,” responded Elwell, adding that moorings were grandfathered in.

The town currently has 90 rental moorings, and Lehman said they were limited to 190. The rental moorings are in Type III waters, which allow for “high intensity boating,” whereas the private mooring field is in Type I waters. 

“Maybe when they put this in, in 1979, you could anchor in Type I waters,” said Littlefield. 

Member Carl Kaufmann said, “There are more people sleeping on boats than in hotels on Block Island.” He estimated that boaters contribute $10 million to the local economy. 

Lehman said the matter was “also a budget question,” as additional moorings would cost more for maintenance and salaries, among other things.

“I’m not worried about the money,” said Kaufmann, who earlier had said that he knew the Harbormaster, Steve Land, wanted heavier moorings to accommodate the increasingly larger boats that were visiting the island. “It’s a profit center.” 

The Harbors Committee had an equally lengthy discussion regarding bathrooms and shower facilities for boaters. Currently there are public bathrooms located next to the Block Island Maritime Institute, and Tunney made a motion to investigate expanding the facility to accommodate showers, perhaps by adding a second floor. 

Kaufmann indicated that the BIMI board had their own ideas as to how to solve bathroom and shower facility problems. 

Kaufmann said he was bringing it up as a “for your information” matter, as the BIMI was going to make a proposal to the town regarding an alternative for bathrooms.

Town Manager Ed Roberge, who was in attendance, said: “You’re talking about two things that are important — on-the-water activities, and off-the-water activities.”

He said that there were several factors to consider, including access to sewer lines, taxi areas, and trash.

“There’s a much larger global issue that’s on the table,” he said, adding the matter would be looked at this summer and discussions would be held with the Harbormaster and Town Council. “Certainly, we want to engage the Harbors Committee,” Roberge said.

“We want to understand all the issues,” said Roberge. “We need to come up with a cohesive plan.”

“I like the Town Manager’s notion, and the Town Council’s,” said Kaufmann, “to look at the whole nine yards.”