Harbors Committee keeping an eye on pump out fees

Thu, 04/25/2019 - 5:15pm
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The Harbors Committee revisited the subject of charging marinas for pump-out services at its meeting on Thursday, April 18. The initial idea was to charge an annual fee based on the gallonage pumped from boats at each private marina — data the Harbors Department has. They have estimated that 40 percent of the sewage the Harbors Department collects comes from boats staying at private marinas.

The Harbors Committee’s argument is that since the town doesn’t pay the sewage fees for hotels, they shouldn’t for marinas, either. While pump-out services have been provided free of charge to boaters visiting Block Island, for several years, that was not always the case.

The town’s pump-out program began in 1991 when Larry Constantine was harbormaster — two years before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designated the Great Salt Pond a no-discharge zone in May 1993. Old Harbor was so designated in 1998. Initially the fee was $10 per pump-out.

In May of 1992 an amendment to the Town of New Shoreham’s ordinance regarding “antipollution” was passed by the Town Council requiring: “Any marina operating in type three waters, as that term is defined by the Coastal Resources Management Council, in the Great Salt Pond, is required to have a pump-out station on line fully operational, and otherwise having such permits as required by law therefore, no later than nine months from the designation of an area as type three waters. Any marina not in compliance with this article is subject to a fine for each and every day after the nine-month period that it is not in compliance. All marinas shall continue to provide and maintain federal-, state- and town-approved pump-out facilities conveniently available for all vessels at their facilities.”

The overriding concern however is for maintaining the water quality, especially in the Great Salt Pond. In August 1993 Constantine went to the Town Council seeking to eliminate the $10 fee. That didn’t quite happen, but the council did vote to provide the first two pump-outs for free, and then charge $10 per pump-out “thereafter,” according to an article in the August 7, 1993 edition of The Block Island Times.

At some point the program became free. Current Harbormaster Steve Land, who was not at the April 18 meeting, says that this increases compliance, and although the service is free, boaters tend to generously tip the workers operating the pump-out boats.

Additionally, the program has benefitted from several grants from the R.I. Department of Environmental Management that help pay for boats and equipment. Under the terms of those grants, no more than $5 may be charged per pump-out.

At the April 18 meeting, Clerk Kate McConville told the members of the Harbors Committee that the department currently only has records of the gallonage, not the number of boats pumped out at each marina, and that the R.I. DEM was sticking to its rule that the maximum fee charged is $5 per boat. “It’s the safe way to do it so you don’t lose the grant money,” she said.

She did estimate that the proceeds from charging $5 per boat would be “roughly” equal to charging per gallon of sewage. She emphasized that it would be the marina being charged, not the individual boat owners.

Committee member Bob Littlefield suggested sending a letter to all the marina owners inviting them to next month’s meeting. “They need to know what’s coming,” he said, “before they get a bill in October.” He added that marina owners might want to adjust their pricing in order to cover the costs. “The boat owner won’t even know.”

A letter will be sent to all owners of marinas, regardless of size, inviting them to the next meeting, which is scheduled for Thursday, May 16.

McConville presented members of the committee with a memo from Land recommending that two moorings each be offered to the two “sail training programs” on Block Island – the Block Island Club and Block Island Community Sailing, Inc. Both are not-for-profit organizations, and they would be charged $250 per season for each rental mooring.

The memo states: “The Harbors Department has noted an upsurge in sail training programs for adults and youth sailors, which are now being offered, in larger keelboats, which because of their fixed rudders and keels, require moorings as compared to sailing dinghys which are typically dock or beach launched.”

The boats being used are Colgate 26 and Raven 24 sloops.

Member Carl Kaufmann, who has been on the board of directors for the Block Island Club for many years, said: “You can’t haul those boats easily.” He also said that the Block Island Club uses some private moorings belonging to others as they had never had any of their own, and that the private moorings in that area had been “grandfathered in.”

Member Gary Pollard added that the boats in use can easily be damaged during a storm if they are tied up at a dock. “I think the moorings are a good idea.”

After some discussion regarding the differences between the two organizations, the committee approved the idea.

The discussion on “drone activity for the 2019 boat counts” took an unexpected turn. The Harbors Department would like to utilize the services of a professional drone operator to facilitate the count, but committee members had concerns about the use of drones in general.

Kaufmann noted the restrictions on operating drones within five miles of an airport, height restrictions, “both above and below,” as well as a general concern about the hazards of drones. “He can’t just do it anywhere he wants to go,” Kaufmann said of the drone operator.

Drone use

This brought about a discussion about the general operation of drones, which are becoming more popular and accessible to amateur operators.

Member Charles Gustafson asked if there might be a desire to ban the use of drones in both New and Old Harbors.

“Jurisdiction is a question,” said Kaufmann. “Who do you call” if there is a problem he asked. “We need to have a handle on this before the season begins.”

Gustafson volunteered to “do a little research,” on the matter.

“Let the record show,” said Kaufmann, that there is a need to “look into the drone situation being under control.”