Big problems, big ideas

Fri, 01/21/2022 - 7:30am

To the Editor,

I read with great interest that the Tourism Council was brainstorming ideas about how it might use its excess funds. This could be an exciting leadership moment for an organization that matters greatly to each and every one of us that love Block Island. We faced a similar opportunity in the late 1990s when I served as Executive Director. At that point, it was clear that the Council’s mission must be two-fold: promote the shoulder seasons to help build a sustainable year-round economy for islanders and help ameliorate the negative impact caused by tourism to our fragile island. This is why the Tourism Council created and invested in the “Water You Doing?” and “Stay off the Dunes” awareness campaigns to help raise consciousness for water conservation and against beach erosion. And it was at this time that the Tourism Council enlisted the University of R.I. to help us understand what the actual population was on a “typical” summer weekend day, something that had never actually been counted before. It was through that research that the “approximately 20,000 people a day” number was identified.
I really applaud the Tourism Council for having a speaker on Sustainable Tourism this past summer. I know I am not alone in fearing that this precious place has become the frog that doesn’t realize the water it sits in is getting hotter and hotter, oblivious that it is actually boiling to death. It was not surprising to read that the Transfer Station was nearing maximum capacity or that the Water Company has to hold off approving new customers. Life on the island is fundamentally changing in large part to the sheer volume of people. An update to that 1999 population study now could provide valuable data for future planning, not only for the Tourism Council but for the town, the business community, and residents. It is after all 20-plus years later with substantially more daily boats arriving, greatly expanded marinas, and many, many more overnight accommodations.

Enlisting URI or another research arm could be the first step in bold service to the entire community. Investing resources now into research that helps us to understand the impact of having tens of thousands of people on the island over the course of just three months a year would
be transformative. That information could then be used toward thoughtful strategic planning, perhaps working with the town to identify models, evaluate strategies, and seed ideas for the island’s long term livability and sustainability. After all, if we lose those there is no tourism industry. Big ideas are messy and complicated but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth considering, especially if they help residents and tourists alike. Many have been floated over the years:
• developing a port authority,
• creating a desalination plant,
• leasing the DEM lot for residents,
• designing a quota vehicle plan for rentals
Obviously, big ideas need to be poked at, explored, tested. Some can work, others don’t, still others really don’t make sense. This work takes strategic planning, commitment, collaboration and other words, leadership. As I said, this really can be an exciting leadership
moment for the Tourism Council.
Nina Stack,
Center Road
Tourism Council Executive Director
CC: Block Island Tourism Council
New Shoreham Town Council