Committee to look into dinghy dock compliance

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 9:45am

The decision to reduce the amount of public space available for dinghies at the Block Island Boat Basin by half last summer appears to be in violation of an assent granted back in 1998, according to a member of the Harbors Committee. 

The closure of half of the dinghy dock left boaters scrambling to find space for their dinghies and unleashed a torrent of letters to the town, The Block Island Times, and to the Harbors Department complaining about lack of services available to boaters visiting the Great Salt Pond. Presumably, the reduction in space was to allow for the rental of additional slips to vessels staying at the marina. 

On Feb. 15, Harbor’s Committee member Gary Pollard presented the Committee with copies of the original assent granting the Boat Basin permission to construct a dinghy dock that he obtained from the Coastal Resources Management Council, along with correspondence between himself and the CRMC seeking clarification on the matter. The assent from the CRMC is dated May 19, 1998, and was recorded into the town’s land evidence records on June 4, 1998.

The CRMC assent from 1998 allowed the Boat Basin to “install a five-foot by 100-foot float, and ramp, within marina perimeter limit, for dinghy dockage, located at Block Island Boat Basin.” The original assent was modified slightly later to shift the location of the dock to the east side of the main pier, with a reduction in length of ten feet.

In an email to Pollard from David S. Reis, Supervising Environmental Scientist for the CRMC, dated Feb. 13, 2018, Reis wrote: “By the permits, the dinghy dock can only be used for dinghies. Dinghies do not count toward the boat/vessel count for the facility. The permits seem to indicate that the marina docks other than the dinghy dock accommodate the allowed vessel count of 120 boats. Adding additional vessels to the dinghy dock would require an assent modification.”

“If we knew about this last summer,” said Pollard, “maybe we could have prevented what happened.”

Members of the Harbors Committee, along with Harbormaster Steve Land and members in the audience, had a discussion as how to best enforce compliance with CRMC assent orders. The general feeling was that it might not be a priority for the CRMC, and it was hoped that the Town Council could put some pressure on the organization to come to the Island to do some inspections. 

“Let’s push this one,” said Town Councilor Sven Risom, who was at the meeting. “This is a great thing to send to the Town Council.”

But the matter didn’t end with just the Boat Basin. Pollard suggested they obtain assents for “every business on-island to see if they’re compliant.”

A motion to write a letter to the Town Council regarding CRMC enforcement was passed unanimously by those present at the meeting.

The Harbors Committee also approved sending a letter of support for the proposed dinghy dock to be built by the Wronowski family between their restaurant, Dead Eye Dick’s and Payne’s Dock. The dock would be leased to the town for twenty years, at a cost of one dollar per year. The Harbors Department will be in charge of maintaining the dock and overseeing its usage. Land said this was the fourth meeting he had attended that week in seeking favorable advisories for the project, which the Wronowskis hope to have completed by the end of May. 

“I really want this to succeed,” said Land. “The Wronowskis want this to succeed…the boaters really want this to succeed.”

The project received preliminary approval by the Town Council, and so far has garnered approval from the Planning Board, the Shellfish Commission and the Conservation Commission. It still needs approval from the Historic District Commission, as well as permits from the CRMC.

Kelp growing proposal

While not seeking any type of formal approval, Catherine Puckett gave the Harbors Committee a presentation on her proposal to lease four acres in the Great Salt Pond for growing sugar kelp. The actual growing area will be 2.5 acres. Puckett said that the plan was to grow the kelp from November through April of each year, when it will be harvested. Then “everything comes out of the water,” said Puckett. “The beautiful thing is, it eliminates competing uses” in the Pond.

The kelp would be grown on ropes extending from the surface of the Pond down to the botton, at a depth of 20 feet. The kelp will be five feet below the surface.

Puckett is working with the not-for-profit GreenWave, which is helping potential kelp farmers in Rhode Island with educational training, permitting, and seed for the kelp. “Oyster farmers are getting into it to keep busy in the off-season.” Puckett said the seed would be procured from Rhode Island. 

Operations, if approved, will not fully begin until after a two-year viability study is done, with the help of The Nature Conservancy.

One of the questions members of the Committee had for Puckett, as well as for TNC scientist Diandra Verbeyst was whether the kelp had the potential for becoming invasive in the Pond. 

“This came up, and University of Connecticut scientists said ‘it’s coming up before it becomes reproductive,’” said Puckett. (Kelp doesn’t become reproductive until it is a year old, and evidently stops growing and dies when the water warms up in the summer.)

Shellfish Commission member Wendell Corey said his group heard a presentation on the project, and he also participated in studies of kelp growing in Connecticut for 10 years. “The key point is it grows in a very short time when the water is cold. When the water gets warmer, it stops growing,” said Corey.

The kelp industry has been growing in recent years, and one of the lead researchers is Dr. Charles Yarish of the University of Connecticut. He has obtained mobile processing equipment that can be used in southern New England, so that kelp producers do not have to take their product to Maine for processing. Puckett said that each foot of rope that is seeded can produce 10 to 16 pounds of product. 

“From an economic development point of view,” said Risom, “it’s one of the best ideas I’ve heard.”