Beach parking a sticking point for Town Council

Fri, 10/08/2021 - 7:34am

The Town Council has granted the easement to National Grid to resume its cable work at Fred Benson Town Beach. But, it wasn’t quite a slam dunk for the big utility.
National Grid had to suspend its work on the cable reburial project last spring after debris clogged the conduit that was to carry the new section of cable from shore to a point offshore where it would be spliced to the cable to the mainland. The work to get to that point took months and involved drilling tunnels 30 feet beneath the ocean floor.

The work occupied most of the two parking lots at Fred Benson Town Beach and National Grid and Orsted, the company that
owns the Block Island Wind Farm, which also has a cable that needed reburying, were supposed to restore the area “to its
previous condition.” Orsted successfully completed its work last winter.
There have been complaints over the summer, mostly about flooding in the south lot after heavy rains. Councilor Martha Ball, at the first meeting devoted to the granting of the easement on Friday, Sept. 24, had questions about the planting of beach roses in the north lot.
With the area to be disturbed again, and therefore restored again, the council wanted to be more specific. “Since 1954 it’s been hit or miss,” said Ball, speaking of the importance of parking at the beach. “This is an opportunity to get it done.”
Councilor Keith Stover wanted a more formal plan from the two companies on the parking lot restoration and not just a casual email that potentially could be dismissed by higher-ups.

Town Manager Maryanne Crawford said that National Grid has an agreement to restore the parking lot “prior to the beginning of the project.” As for what might be ideal: “In my mind those are two different things.”
Councilor Mark Emmanuelle “wanted bodies in the room,” for a discussion.
And so another meeting was arranged for the following Wednesday – Sept. 29. The morning of, when The Block Island Times went to photograph the rogue roses, Orsted’s Bryan Wilson and former town Facilities Manager Sam Bird, who was involved in the most recent parking lot redesign, were there checking the lot.
Later that day at the meeting, Bird said he had surveyed the lot and that it was “as designed” although the area enclosing the roses was off by three or four inches. The difference, he said may have been an “optical illusion.” He also said the number of parking spaces was the same.
There were four representatives from National Grid attending by phone, and Second Warden Sven Risom, chairing the meeting, took them to task over some unpaid bills to local vendors. One was for damage to a rental property that housed Grid subcontractors, one was for soil samples and testing, and one was for tipping fees at the transfer station. “Please settle that up,” he said.

“We’ll look at that,” said one of the representatives from National Grid. “I want to emphasize,” said Risom, “we take this very seriously.” Later he said he was “ready to increase the amount of the easement by the amounts owed.”
With a more formal commitment from Orsted on the parking lot and assurances from National Grid that all outstanding invoices would be paid, the three councilors (Ball and First Warden Andre Boudreau were absent due to prior commitments) approved the easement that runs from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, 2021, with an option to renew for four more weeks if needed.

If Grid isn’t successful this time in running the cable through the conduit, what happens? “If this doesn’t work, they’re back to square one,” said Crawford.