Council contends with dinghy dock dilemma

Says it could be priority for new Town Manager
Fri, 08/11/2017 - 10:00am

“You (the town) need to take small bites at this, and I think you’ll be more successful.”

That is what boater Greg Skyler suggested to solve the issue of the reduction of public space at the dinghy dock in New Harbor during the Town Council’s meeting on Monday. The item, which has become a hot-button topic, had been moved from the previous Town Council meeting on August 2nd due to an agenda snafu.

Skyler, who along with a number of other boaters attended the meeting, said, “You have a big, big issue of making sure that your 2,000 boaters are somewhat more comfortable on a regular basis. You guys are in business like everybody else in the pond — and you need to follow through” on correcting the issue. “You could put in a small dinghy, or courtesy, dock at Mosquito Beach — or what is now called Dinghy Beach.” Skyler said other places have appropriate dinghy dock space, and the issue appears to be exclusive to Block Island.

The consensus from the hour-long discussion was that the dinghy dock issue was essential to the island economy. First Warden Ken Lacoste said there was “a lot for the Town Council to think about” in addressing the problem. “The Town Council is aware of the issue,” he said. “When the new Town Manager is hired we will give that person direction” regarding this issue.

The crux of the issue is that there is limited dinghy dock space available at the Block Island Boat Basin, which is privately owned, during the busy summer season. The owners provide the dock space as a courtesy. Everyone from transient boaters to the Block Island Chamber of Commerce weighed in on the subject at the meeting.

John Mott, whose family owns the Boat Basin, wanted the issue of ownership to be clear.

“The property is owned by the Mott family,” he said during a visit to The Block Island Times a few days after the meeting. “I know there is a big squabble about the dinghy dock, which the Boat Basin provides as a courtesy. We have no responsibility to provide a dinghy dock.” 

Mott added that the Boat Basin also provides space for the Harbormaster’s office for free. He said that half the dock in New Harbor would remain open for dinghies, but providing dinghy dock space for the boating public is “something the town needs to do.”

During the Town Council meeting, Chamber of Commerce staffer Molly O’Neill said that the Chamber has been getting complaints regarding the accommodations at New Harbor. “This issue has been simmering for years,” she said.

Resident boater Bruce Johnson, who noted that the boaters are good for the island economy, said, “It goes back many, many years, and all this attention paid to the ferry boats that come in. And on the other side we have done literally nothing that I can remember, since 1964, to cater to the boat people. These are people we want to come to this island.”

“I’ve never heard so many complaints about a dinghy dock in my life,” added Johnson. “It’s the town’s responsibility for providing a dinghy dock. Not a private (entity). How many years have we been talking about having a dinghy dock?”

Boat builder John Puckett said the “biggest issue is dinghy dock space, with the second being the trash. Those two issues need to be addressed first. Then you can start chipping away at all of the other things. It’s tough living on a boat and not having a harbors facility.”

“I think there’s an assumption that (boaters) are going to keep coming to Block Island. The reality is that we are becoming a second-rate harbor to many places within close proximity,” said Harbors Committee member Erik Elwell, who has been pushing for a new harbor facility with his fellow committee members. “I think we owe it to the harbor to keep it clean,” he said. “Getting people off of their boats to have showers, and facilities, is a home run.”

Harbormaster Steve Land agreed with Skyler’s “small bites” approach. “There is no easy solution,” he said. “This year it has come to a boiling point regarding the dinghy dock.”

Land said there are “things that can be done” to solve the issue, including the addition of a small courtesy dock at Dinghy Beach. “I sympathize with the boaters. This is something we want to work on correcting.”

“I think Greg Skyler might have a point,” said Councilor Martha Ball. “Instead of saying a dinghy dock, maybe we should be talking about multiple docks.” Ball also said the Ball O’Brien Park property has been a problematic site for projects that have been proposed in the past.

Island resident Robbie Gilpin said, “We don’t spend $2.5 million on a community center for those of us that live here, and we’re going to spend $2.5 million on building a facility for transient boaters? Currently, you provide more services for the boaters that live in the pond in the summer than we do for the residents that live here.”

“If this thing is to gain traction, three things have to happen,” said Gilpin. “First, we need a Town Manager. Second, we need to look at the Ball O’Brien property. I strongly suggest we punt it back to the Planning Board, and have them work with the Harbors Committee — to develop a plan that is sustainable.” Gilpin also said the town should look for grants to fund a New Harbor facility project.

Sven Risom, Planning Board Vice Chair and former Chair of the Large Capital Asset Strategy Sub-Committee, said the LCAS committee determined that a harbor facility and a dinghy dock was “a critical need” on the island. Risom said he thought the Town Council should direct the new Town Manager to address the issue in concert with the Planning Board and Harbors Committee. “That’s the biggest step,” he said.

Second Warden Norris Pike recused himself from the discussion. He is married to Susan Mott whose family is in litigation over an issue that concerns the Block Island Boat Basin.

In other news, by a vote of 4-to-1, with Pike dissenting, the Town Council approved Frank DiBiase’s application for expansion of a Class BV liquor license for The Barn restaurant. The Council also set a hearing date of Sept. 5th to hear the Planning Board’s interest in revising the town’s general ordinance regarding the banning of plastic bags on the island.

The next Town Council meeting is Wednesday, August 16 at 7 p.m.