Block Island Conservancy assesses the past year

Thu, 10/17/2019 - 5:00pm

Aside from cleaning, clearing and connecting the Greenway trails on the island, the Block Island Conservancy also preserved 30 acres of new land in the past year, including the acquisition of Hull Pond.

These were some of the statistics and data offered by Executive Director Clair Stover Comings and others at the BIC’s Annual Meeting on Sunday, Oct. 13 at the 1661 Inn.

The keynote speaker was Caitlin Chaffee, a policy analyst for the Coastal Resources Management Council, who spoke on the need to protect and preserve coastal buffer systems. BIC President Dorrie Napoleone also said that the BIC, as well as the Land Trust and the Block Island program of The Nature Conservancy were “united in their opinion” that a recent change to the town’s zoning laws to include conservation easements into the square footage of parcels of developable land “goes against the intent of conservation easements.” The groups were asking the Planning Board to “hold off at least three months to find out exactly what is at stake” and to do an inventory of how many easements may be impacted by the zoning change. (The Planning Board held a public hearing on the matter on Tuesday, Oct. 15, at which it voted to table the matter for the suggested three months. See related story on page 1.)

All in all, said Comings, who spoke next, “2019 was a great year for land conservation.” She specifically mentioned the purchase of Hull Pond, a 4.5 acre parcel located just off Cooneymus Road. She said that a new trail has been created to bring walkers to the top of the hill overlooking the pond. The BIC, she said, was “looking forward to new conservation projects.” Stover also praised the other two major conservation organizations on the island, the Land Trust and the The Nature Conservancy.

The stewardship report, provided by Jim McCormick, said that much of the past year has been spent “repairing trails an expanding entrances and adding new loops for walkers to enjoy.” He said there is now a continuous trail from the Nathan Mott Ball Park, located across from the airport, “to the west side,” and that there were more efforts being made to interconnect existing trails. McCormick said there had been some brush and shrubbery clearing at Rodman’s Hollow.

Comings then gave an update on the restoration of illegal clearing that had been done by a neighbor located next to Skipper’s Island in the Great Salt Pond. “We’ve been working with a contractor to restore that property but I’m pleased to see the return of native growth.” In light of that incident, Stover said the BIC would be creating a manual for “Block Island landowners and contractors to learn how to care for protected lands.”

BIC member Seth Draper outlined the results of a pilot composting program. Refuse was collected from a pre-selected group of 22 homes that resulted in more than 1,900 pounds of composted material “that’s now ready to be used on people’s gardens.” Draper said he hopes that the program will “raise awareness for how important composting is and how much a small community can benefit from it.”

Rosemary Tobin reported on the annual fair the BIC sponsors. “It raised $17,000 in five hours of family fun.” The fair not only features games, but also has an educational component, which this past year focused on sustainability. The funds raised will go toward “stewardship and signage for the trails,” Tobin said.

Keynote speaker Chaffee outlined the purview of the CRMC, the primary mission of which is to “preserve, protect, develop and where possible restore coastal resources of the state.” The CRMC monitors “coastal hazards, offshore wind energy development, aquaculture, dredging, shoreline public access — which is getting more contentious everyday — aquatic invasive species, and coastal wetlands.” 

On the topic of coastal buffers, Chaffee said these natural buffers provide water quality protection, habitat protection, scenic enhancement and erosion control. But she cautioned that these natural buffers are moving inland, closer to development. “We’re seeing more and more people mowing their salt marshes, which is not good.”