Council accepts Deepwater extension request

Sat, 11/17/2012 - 4:00pm

Last month two Town Council agenda items were tabled amid much public opposition, and the council tackled each at its Nov. 14 meeting, approving a request from Deepwater Wind and awarding a one-year town IT contract.

At an October council meeting, Deepwater requested an addenda to the Option Agreement between the town and Deepwater. The existing agreement allows Deepwater three months of construction on town beach property until May 15, 2014 — the addenda would extend that date to June 21. However, only seven of those extra days would involve construction with no work performed over Memorial Day, assured Deepwater.

Deepwater engineer Paul Murphy explained the details to the council. Block Island Wind Farm Manager Bryan Wilson and company president Chris van Beek were also on hand to answer questions. The request comes in part out of concern that construction periods would conflict with spring whale activity.

The request elicited much public opposition last month. This month, there were some opposing letters and questions from both audience and council.

“Why today do you want to talk about a seven day extension,” asked audience member Sean McGarry, who has been elected to the upcoming council. “Just now you’re realizing you’re going to be having an impact on white whale migration for this period of time. That just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”

McGarry continued, “I think it’s important we get an environmental impact study so we know exactly what is going to happen.”

McGarry further suggested waiting until Narragansett announces the result of its negotiation as to the amount it would receive from Deepwater. Some council members seemed inclined to agree. From the audience, Cliff McGinnes Sr. noted that comparing the two town’s negotiation amounts would be like comparing apples and oranges.

Gaffett also suggested that there should be additional money tacked on to the $350,000 amount the town will receive as part of the agreement.

“I think the amount of money originally settled on in the original contract was very fair and very generous,” said Wilson. “We’re amenable to whatever the council sees fit, but from my personal perspective I think we have an arrangement that’s generous and that’s fair.”

Gaffett motioned that the council require Deepwater pay an extra $25,000 if it chooses to extend its construction time. She mentioned that the council has spent legal time and money on this issue.

“I’ve been criticized a lot for leaving money on the table, and I’m not going to do it this time,” she said. Her motion received no second and therefore did not carry.

The council approved the extension of the agreement, with Ken Lacoste opposed.

Deepwater comment period extended

The council also had on its agenda to provide comment to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for its open public comment period on Deepwater Wind, as the deadline was Nov. 19. However, the council learned the deadline was extended (see related story) and also received multiple letters, many of which asked for close research of Deepwater’s permitting applications and environmental/economic impacts. Several letter-writers requested that their statements be read at the meeting, including Edith Blane, Mike Hickey, Rosemarie Ives, Patrick and Sandra Kelly, and Linda Spak.

Due to the deadline extension, the council agreed to not act on the agenda item. The new council, which takes office December 3, will assume the duty of submitting public comment on Deepwater to the Army Corps.

IT Contract

Another tabled item from October also received action: the council awarded the town’s Information Technology contract to Michele Spero for one year.

At the October meeting, Town Manager Nancy Dodge said she had put the contract out to bid and received one response — the town’s current contractor Michele Spero. Several members of the public had objected to various aspects of this, questioning the quality of Spero’s past work in the town and the legitimacy of the bid proposal itself.

Spero attended this November 14 meeting to address issues directly. However, no members of the public who made opposing comments at the last meeting were present for this one.

Dodge said that comments that had been made at the October meeting were not true, including claims that Spero had put together the bid specs. She also again recommended that Spero would be the best choice.

“Michele has served this community very well over the last few years,” said Dodge. “I have not found one individual at any department who will not say that her response time and the service she provides is anything but the best.”

All the council members agreed with the quality of Spero’s work, but Council Member Dick Martin did disagree with one part: he proposed that the contract should be for only one year, not the proposed two years.

“A one year contract would allow incoming council to review and have a decision,” he said, while two years would go beyond the limits of the incoming council.

Gaffett disagreed with Martin. She said that most other contracts are for multiple years, such as police for three years. “I think there’s a very strong argument for continuity of services,” she said.

However, the council voted 3-2 for awarding a one-year contract to Spero, with Gaffett and Peter Baute voting against.

Capital Funds

The council also selected three areas to designate its $24,492 in unallocated fiscal funds for 2013.

Of this money, $6,000 will go to repairing the Coast Guard Station, $14,000 for repairing the harbors pumpout engines, and an additional $2,000 to help pay for two police vehicles. This leaves $2,492 in unallocated money.

The amounts were the recommendations of Town Manager Nancy Dodge and Town Finance Director Amy Land. The areas are from a list of recommendations for capital improvements that were put forth by the Planning Board.

Public Comment on Med. Center

During public comment, Richard Weisbroat spoke about the management agreement between the town and the Block Island Health Services board, which has been a matter of discussion between the two parties for the past few months.

He first asked that the current council defer any decision on the management agreement until the next council takes over.

At the end of the meeting during schedule discussions, Gaffett said that BIHS president Pam Hinthorn told her that a joint council-BIHS discussion on the management agreement would not be on the next BIHS meeting agenda because the agenda was already too full.

Weisbroat also made comments about the 501c3 status of BIHS, expressing concern that BIHS could be putting its 501c3 status at risk by not accurately producing meeting minutes and following open meetings provisions. Weisbroat explained that he talked with a 501c3 expert, who said that there are required meeting minutes that must be filed as a part of the audit process in order to maintain 501c3 status.

Council Member Peter Baute, also acting as interim Executive Director of the BIHS board, responded. “We have a couple of board members preparing to develop a file of hard copies,” of minutes, he said.

Peter Saxon spoke up to echo Weisbroat’s comments, asking the current council to defer action on the agreement.