Deepwater request meets dissent at council meeting

Fri, 10/19/2012 - 3:15pm
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Deepwater Wind requested an extra five-week window construction extension, in which seven of those days would involve work at the town beach parking lot in 2014 — but amid pressure from the audience, raised voices and slight hesitation from the council, council members tabled the decision to a future meeting.

The request, presented by Deepwater island liaison Bryan Wilson and engineer Paul Murphy, asked for 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. This construction would include installation of the electric cable to the mainland.

After receiving environmental concerns that the construction period would conflict with spring whale activity, Deepwater requested that the construction time be extended until June 21 — however, only seven of those days would involve extra work, and there would be no work performed over Memorial Day, assured Deepwater.

The public didn’t think this was such a great idea.

In a heated exchange, Michael Delia charged that the construction would displace “300 or 600 island cars,” and hurt the town financially during the beginning of the island’s busy season, but First Warden Kim Gaffett suggested that this was hyperbole. Maggie Delia later expressed that the opposition to Deepwater was not receiving proper consideration.

Rosemarie Ives also stepped up and opposed not only the addendum proposal, but the whole option agreement in general.

She argued that the amount the town had previously negotiated to lease the land for — currently $350,000 as well as the fiberoptic cable — may not have been enough money, and questioned the fact that there was no professional advice on this cost. She also asked the town to hold off on any more decisions until the Town of Narragansett releases its decisions.

“This decision feels very hasty,” she said.

Town Manager Nancy Dodge said the town has been thorough in its negotiations, and Gaffett said the decision was made in closed session, but she would release the information about the decision once the closed minutes are released.

Block Island Power Company owner Cliff McGinnes Sr. noted he had received a professional estimate for his lease of the power company land to Deepwater, and suggested that the town should be satisfied in the rate it received.

“Block Island is getting a $50 million cable,” said Wilson, also noting that comparing Block Island’s pricing to Narragansett’s would be unfair. “You’re completely ignoring the economic benefits of that.”

Council member Ken Lacoste said that he had thought over the opposition to Deepwater’s addendum request, and didn’t think seven days of extra construction at the town would be too much of a major financial impact to the town.

“I think we can survive seven days to get this major engineering project accomplished, so we can provide electricity for generations to come,” he said. Council member Dick Martin largely agreed, expressing his desire to provide cheaper electricity costs — and that so far, Deepwater has been the best viable option.

However, town solicitor Kathy Merolla had legal questions about the addendum wording, and so she agreed to draft better wording, and the council agreed to revisit the issue at a later date.

Audience questions legitimacy of IT Contract

One more item was also tabled until November 5, primarily because of public dissent. Town Manager Nancy Dodge announced that she had put out to bid the town’s Information Technology Contract and received one bidder — the town’s current IT contractor — in answer.

Dodge explained that the contract runs for two years, and is important because “we have a lot of ongoing projects.” She praised the level of service that the bidder has provided in the past. The last contract expired in June and the IT work has since been done on a month-by-month basis. She also noted that many other communities have commented that the contractor is highly desired.

Council members were asked to act on the bid, but not before the public got its say.

Two candidates for local office weighed in. First Warden candidate Howell Conant objected to various aspects of the issue. He first suggested that it seemed like the bid specifications as advertised had been written by the bidder — which is a conflict of interest. He likened it to a previous situation that happened with island resident Chris Warfel, who wrote specifications for town solar panels and then was forbidden to bid on the project after he claims he had been assured that the specs would be rewritten by the town manager.

Dodge argued that she herself had written the IT specifications and pulled them from other towns’ descriptions and that the individual had nothing to do with the structuring of the bid.

Town Council candidate Warfel disagreed, claiming “this does not smell right.” He said it is not a good sign that there was only one bidder for the project — suggesting that the bidder did write the specs — and therefore asked the council to table the discussion.

Dodge said that the bid was properly advertised in the Providence Journal, as required. She said there were various calls of interest but only one submitted bid.

Conant also suggested that there was no need for a two-year contract at all. He suggested finding other interested bidders and reaching out directly to other possible candidates instead of advertising in one paper or giving all the work to one person.

“I can’t see any reason why we need this contract,” said Conant. “This does nothing but be exclusive and prohibits going contract by contract.”

Conant further charged that he felt the IT work was not always of good quality, bringing up an issue that this same bidder performed what he deemed inaccurate work on the fire department’s alarm system. Dodge said there had been no complaints submitted about the work. Conant was also later corrected by Town Finance Director Amy Land, when he incorrectly claimed the IT contractor selected software for the sewer and water billing system. Land said she had been the one who selected the software.

Gaffet suggested later that she was satisfied with Dodge’s recommendation and did not see the public’s complaints as sufficient enough to not award the bid.

However, the council agreed to honor the public dissent and hold off acting on the bid until all five council members were present (Peter Baute and Ray Torrey were absent).

Public Comment

Ives stepped up first during public comment to raise issues regarding Deepwater, calling out the town’s responsibility to thoroughly investigate decommissioning costs.

Warfel said that it is important people know that the oysters put aside for the oyster restoration project are a spawning sanctuary and not for public harvesting.

Fred Nelson brought up the ongoing issue of Heinz Field maintenance and organic fertilizer. He charged that the town has been ignoring his requests to hear the issue, and the Land Trust is also ignoring his request. He suggested that the town take action and directly request the Land Trust consider the expense of requiring only organic fertilizer.

Miscellany

Council members agreed to appoint Carl Kaufmann to the Harbors Committee, but tabled a motion to appoint an alternate to both the Sewer and Water commissions, as there was only one person interested. There are currently openings on the Senior Advisory Board, the Sewer Commission and the Water Commission.

With no opposition from the public after holding a public hearing, the town voted to amend and recodify the “New Shoreham Revised Ordinances.” Clerk Fiona Fitzpatrick explained that changes to the ordinances are minor.

The council also tabled to Dec. 17 setting a public hearing date for the Tree Protection Ordinance proposed by the Conservation Commission. Gaffett suggested that this would be a good project for the new Town Council to begin, and other council members agreed.

While discussing and approving the monthly police report, Martin questioned continued parking on the side of West Side Road. He suggested that police ticket the offenders. Gaffett said that the town would request that the police first contact the offender personally to see if he would move his vehicle, and also that police look into what they could do about the parking issue.

There was a hearing for a wastewater violation for William Schwartz’s South East Road property (Plat 8, Lot 35). Town Wastewater Inspector Don Thimble said the hearing was enough to pressure Schwartz into beginning to correct the violation; Thimble is satisfied with progress thus far.

Council members waived a fee requirement for a Victualing License for the B.I. Community Center.