Fence at Ballard's Beach questioned

By Land Trust
Fri, 07/17/2015 - 8:00am

It’s rare that the Block Island Land Trust receives input from the public during its monthly meetings, but on Monday, July 13, they received some from resident Jon Grant. 

“I have a question,” said Grant. “I take my dog for a walk for a walk every morning on the beach.” Grant went on to tell the trustees that he usually tries to access the beach from the public access point at Ballard’s, but: “Lately it’s all blocked off with a fence, pallets, garbage and building materials.” He also noted that a new fence had been put up approximately three weeks prior, that extends all the way from the dunes just south of Ballards, down below the mean high water mark, almost to the water.

Land Trust Vice-Chair Denny Heinz had also observed the new fence and told those assembled that he had talked to Town Manager Nancy Dodge about it, and that she was going to send the Building Inspector to take a look at it. 

Grant told the group that there had been a fence on what he suspected was Ballard’s property, but that it had been moved south about 30 feet, and “rubble” that had previously been on the Ballard’s side of the fence was now on the other side. He wondered whether that fence had been moved onto Land Trust property.

“That would be our property,” said Land Trust Chair Barbara MacMullan, and although they were interested to see pictures Grant had taken of the area, Joe Priestley, the Land Trust’s attorney cautioned the group that the matter was not on the agenda, so it couldn’t be discussed.

It was decided that surveys of the area would be consulted, and the matter placed on the agenda of either the next regular meeting, or a specially called meeting. 

Ballard’s owner Steve Filippi, who was not present at the meeting and was contacted by The Block Island Times after, took issue with the way the fence had been characterized.

“The beach fence was put up in coordination with the Block Island Police Department to clearly show the property line. By law, Ballard’s cannot allow anyone to bring their own alcohol onto our property nor allow anyone to leave with an alcoholic beverage. Beachgoers are not allowed through the Ballard’s alley because it is private property and it’s not the safest way to access the beach,” said Filippi. “There are delivery trucks, cars and a compactor constantly there. Someone could seriously injure themselves. Ballard’s is a responsible member of our community and public safety is our top priority.”

Then it was on to the main item on the Land Trust’s agenda, the Solviken Property. “We’ve made some — I consider — very good progress,” said MacMullan. “The foundation has been filled in, neat and tidy.” Other work performed was the demarcation of the parking area with stones removed from the foundation, debris removal, and mowing. 

(The day after the work was performed, Trustee Harold “Turtle” Hatfield told The Block Island Times that it taken all of two and-a-half hours.)

“I think at this point it’s time to regroup,” said MacMullan. Both the Land Trust and Solviken co-owner, the Block Island Conservancy had rejected all of the bids for the work they had hoped to do there due to excessive cost of the proposed project. 

Hatfield said he had walked the area with Dodge, and then later with Highways Supervisor, Mike Shea, and he had three, “no four” wishes for the property. First on his list was the moving of the monument near Yellow Kittens that gets inundated by sand each year and then has to be dug out by the town. 

Second on his list was the use of the lot for parking by employees of the Beachead Restaurant. “It’s fine now and then,” said Hatfield, “but they’re abusing it.”

BIC President Bill Comings, who was in attendance said that he had talked to the Beachead a couple of years ago, and perhaps it was time to do so again. 

Third was the removal of an abandoned moped, and lastly was the desire for a crosswalk and additional beach access paths so that people would not just walk over the dunes. “It’s driving me nuts – people going over the dunes,” said Hatfield. He suggested the town make a request to the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) to put a ramp, and/or steps up over the revetment section of the dune so people could get down to the beach. Ideally, there could be two, one on either side of the Douyon property to the north of the Solviken. 

MacMullan said that that would be the town’s responsibility, and asked Hatfield: “Is Nancy (Dodge) going to pursue it?”

“Yes. Hopefully,” answered Hatfield.

Regarding the moving of the monument, Comings said: “It’s on the plans. It needs a small concrete foundation.” When asked who owned the monument, Comings said that that had never been clear, but that it had been put up by Lester Dodge. 

“Town says we can move it whenever we want,” said Hatfield, again emphasizing that it would free up the town from having to dig out the monument each year. 

The monument has also become an unofficial beach access path. “People just walk over the dune,” said Heinz.

“These are all things we could do short-term,” said MacMullan. 

“Let’s make sure we have the town’s permission,” said Priestley, and the trustees agreed to send a letter to the Town Council asking for formal permission to move the monument.

“Longer term, we need to talk about the rest,” said MacMullan. In the original plans, there had been a rain garden that would control water run-off. The request for the inclusion of the rain garden had been made by the CRMC.

Heinz said: “The water is coming down the road itself, not from the property.”

“Water has to go somewhere,” said Hatfield, suggesting that they contact the R.I. Department of Transportation to see if they “could control their run-off.” He suggested that the water might be redirected into wetlands just south of the Solviken that could naturally filter the water before it entered the Great Salt Pond. 

One of the desires of the Land Trust for the property had been the extension of a stone wall on the northern side parallel to the road, but in far enough to allow for a possible sidewalk in the future.  Heinz said that the rocks removed from the foundation could be used for the wall. 

Trustee Barby Michel asked if the group could go ahead with the wall, and Priestley nodded “Yes.”

Comings said that they “may need a couple of approvals from the CRMC.”

Hatfield wasn’t sure that it was in the CRMC’s jurisdiction, but the group decided to double-check.

Another “temporary improvement” the Land Trust desired was to have some signage that could orient people to the area. One possibility was to put up a kiosk, and MacMullan said that: ”Bill (Comings) had a good idea.”

Comings then showed the group some pictures of an informational area that had recently been installed at Goosewing Beach in Little Compton.

From the audience, Chris Littlefield of The Nature Conservancy noted that it looked like the same type of information board that had recently been installed at the Block Island Maritime Institute.

MacMullan thought that a “less involved” structure, similar to the one the Committee for the Great Salt Pond (CGSP) has at Mosquito Beach might be appropriate. “They’re very nice and info can be swapped out.”

“Getting people oriented would be a great idea,” said Comings. 

Hatfield was concerned about the placement of a kiosk, saying he didn’t want it to block the view of anyone who wished to picnic in the area. 

It was suggested that the kiosk be placed at the southernmost edge of the property. “It’s the least impact to the view,” said Littlefield. He thought that the CGSP’s kiosks were attractive, and credited CGSP President Sven Risom for the design, which he thought was “nicer than our own.”

Hatfield described another type of design, which was open, but with angled roofs that would create “pockets of shade.”

“These changes should be the focus of the next year,” said MacMullan. She proposed convening a sub-committee that could work with the BIC, but noting that it was a very busy time of year, suggested having one core member from the Land Trust, with others rotating in and out. It was agreed that Heinz would be the “core” member. Comings said he would create the subcommittee on the BIC’s side.

Barby Michel gave her monthly Treasurer’s report, telling the group that $51,647.25 had been collected in transfer fees in June and that the balance in the operating account was now $1,444,517.

Secretary Heidi Tarbox had a small laundry list for the trustees as part of her monthly report, including the receipt of an invitation from Block Island Health Services to their 25th anniversary celebration, and notification that the annual Land Trust Rally would be held from Oct. 8 to Oct. 10, in Sacramento, California.

“Bring your own water,”  joked Hatfield. 

There was also a call from the R.I. Land Trust Council to see if the Land Trust would be planning to host an activity for Land Trust Days, sometime between August and October. 

Littlefield said that The Nature Conservancy had hosted the event in the past couple of years. It was recommended that one of the regularly scheduled TNC walks be used, and so it was agreed to have the Aug. 24 walk at the Hodge property as the Land Trust Days event.