Elected officials weigh in on issues
On Wednesday, Oct. 28, the seven candidates running for Town Council were among those who participated in a virtual Candidates’ Night. They faced a multitude of questions from the public, ranging from the broadband project, to climate change, the environment, mopeds, and traffic issues.
On Wednesday morning, Nov. 4, the makeup of the Town Council had been decided. André Boudreau was elected as First Warden over incumbent Ken Lacoste; Sven Risom was elected as Second Warden, and the at-large seats had two new members, Keith Stover and Mark Emmanuelle, with incumbent Martha Ball re-elected.
Here are the positions of the elected councilors on issues facing the town. The conversations have been edited for clarity and length.
Q: There has been a lot of talk of Block Island having a branding issue, and with that my questions are: 1) Do you think there is currently an issue with the way the island is perceived? 2) If elected, how would you look to alter Block Island’s current branding issues?
Martha Ball: I think we have two parallels, and I don’t like the term branding. We have a segment of the summer business community that is promoting their businesses. This summer was a nightmare, and I don’t think it was what we were expecting.
André Boudreau: I agree with Martha for the most part, but it was a disastrous summer. I think that I don’t like the word branding either. Everyone has a reason [for coming here] — for the nature trails, the laid back atmosphere. I think we still have that, but I do realize that there is a problem and I do think it could be an enforcement problem. I think we need to dedicate resources to keeping the rowdiness down.
Mark Emmanuelle: This has been building up for years and getting progressively worse every year. Our problem is we are reactive, [and] we have to be more proactive. Block Island will never not be magnetic to the people that visit us — they love it. We have a responsibility to stop the decline, [and] we have to start remembering who the people wearing the white hats on Block Island are.
Sven Risom: I think that the issue of the word branding is unique and uses advertising. Tourism [on the island] has done a nice job. I think we have an opportunity to get back to families.
Keith Stover: We had a summer that was a burden to public safety, health, and a major burden on the Town Council. I do think that goes to branding, and I think being a town that feels it controls its destiny is a part of the solution to that. We have a lot of challenges – this summer was mopeds. The moped issue is critical, but I think the bigger issue is a focus on long-term planning, which branding is a part of.
Q: Our community is much larger right now than it normally is this time of year. Our school population, refuse, water usage, etc. are all up. Once we have improved broadband, it will make it even easier for community members to work from here, distance learn from here, etc. What changes would you like to see for the community as a result of improved broadband?
MB: I think we just all want to have good broadband. The numbers are interesting — right now, I think it’s great for people. I think the question is what the town is going to do. I would look forward to a steady and more stable population before determining what happens here.
AB: I think we need to keep a finger on the pulse of it, because we don’t have the connectivity yet. The people that are here – are they going to stay after Covid-19 is over? We don’t know. I can’t give a specific answer. We don’t have the technology yet.
ME: It’s undebatable that we need it. Let’s proceed with it.
SR: I do think broadband will have more of a result in year round residents. I think it’s going to go up and level off. It goes down to proactive planning, and thinking through the utilities. My belief is that broadband is great for the island, and [will provide] education and bring more stability.
KS: There’s a reason that matter passed unanimously at the Financial Town Meeting. If we want to grow or even hold our own in the world economy, we have to have broadband. It’s not debatable. I’m hopeful that one of the great things that comes out [of broadband] is better educational opportunities for the kids at the school.
Q: The New Shoreham Comprehensive Plan calls for the preservation, protection, and restoration of natural habitats here on Block Island. Many of these habitats offer protections from rising sea levels and strong storms. What specific actions would you propose to mitigate climate change here on Block Island, and what are your ideas on how we as a community might work together to address them?
MB: I think we are talking about dealing with more severe storms and higher water. My answer is this, and there are some simple things that can be done: elevate the Corn Neck Road a few feet, and [address] Bridgegate Square. I think that’s what we have to look at. It’s more dealing with what can be done.
AB: I’m going to agree with Martha, but I have a simple answer: vote for Democrats. Because the other party seems to deny [climate change]. The conservation groups have done an amazing job out here. We can fight this at the ballot.
ME: This makes me think back 30 years ago with the first Earth Day at the school — the theme [for conservation], and today [we have to] think globally and act locally. We can address it [at the election] with the little change in national leadership. We are not doing the right things on Block Island.
SR: I think there is no question [about climate change]. Sea level rise is only one issue. We need to start to plan for mitigation issues. The pipes that run off by the Block Island Grocery – we can see silting in Harbor Pond. We need to understand all the implications, plan accordingly, and act proactively.
KS: We have a wonderful transfer station, [but] we don’t have a comprehensive composting program. I think if we’re going to get serious locally, we need to do the right things locally. The more we are doing in longer-term planning – this is an essential part of it.
Q: Data collected by the Block Island Conservancy indicate that 20 percent of the waste generated on Block Island could be composted, rather than trucked to the Johnston landfill. In traditional landfills decomposing organic waste produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. To this end, the Block Island Conservancy has established a small-scale composting program in partnership with the 1661 Farm & Gardens and Jamie Johnston, formerly of McPick. So far, the effort has diverted over 5,000 pounds of waste from the landfill. Would you support a town-sponsored effort to offer or mandate compost collection on the island?
MB: I think it is something we need to look into, a lot of us do it or try to. I would support looking into it again.
AB: Most of the residents [here] are environmentally conscious and minded. I don’t want to mandate anything about it. I think we could assist with the initiative that started this summer.
ME: The simple answer is absolutely. This is something that I tried to push along with [island resident] Chris Warfel. I think it’s almost harder not to do it.
SR: Composting should be an important part. I think we can help with education, [and] making sure people understand what is expected and desired.
KS: Yes, absolutely. I think it is an essential part of any waste management plan, and the town ought to be engaged in it. We tell people that they need to recycle. This is just broadening the recycling program and we should do it.
Q: What is the primary role of the First Warden, and how can you as the top executive have the greatest impact on moving the island forward?
AB: I think the First Warden is part of a group of five people, [and] the speaker of the council. I think if I’m elected First Warden, we are going to be more collaborative and bring a unified message to get what we want. The most important thing is to have contacts with legislative leaders – I have built these relationships in the past four years. I think it’s the visibility from a unified council, being transparent, and working with the Town Council.
Q: Last summer 55 reported moped accidents, including one fatality, burdened town’s health and safety services. What concrete steps will you support making before Memorial Day 2021 to ensure safer conduct by moped license operators and their customers, and greater accountability for violations of Town ordinances (i.e. moped license holders renting from the same property, dirt road ban, excessive beeping fines, footwear, etc.)
MB: There are conversations going on now between moped operators and the Town Manager, who hit the ground running and has developed a good working relationship with the operators. Nobody wants a summer like last, the moped operators included. They did make some efforts this past summer. The wheels are moving to get a stronger State Police force out here next summer. There are a lot of efforts that can be made if we sit down at the table and try to work cooperatively.
AB: We as Town Council members have to work within the framework – the consent agreement that expires in 2022. This is all we can work within right now. I think we have to look at this like we’re an island with limited resources, and we have to look at the carrying capacity of our roads and an overall traffic plan. I’m hoping for movement on proper training.
ME: The reason I talk so passionately about this is because I have put everything from Band-aids to giving people their last breath as a result of moped accidents on Block Island. I’m open minded regarding this issue. I’m all for buyouts to bans when it comes to this issue.
SR: I think there are some specific things we need to be better at, [such as] enforcement. We need to make sure Weldon’s Way is a fully functioning road. We need to ensure that private commerce is not done on a public road. I hope that this will lead to a safer community.
KS: This has been a public emergency for years. Weldon’s Way is a public road. It’s utter nonsense that we have ceded a public road to private interests, holding that street hostage. It’s an embarrassment. The age needs to be raised, and I also really want a fresh legal look at the documents underpinning the agreement with the moped operators.
Q: Do you support the formation of a police advisory board or a police commission?
AB: I do. I think we can have a commission that represents everyone from all walks of the community… I think it would help the Town Council function better with the police