Harbors Committee recommends pump out fees for marinas

Thu, 05/23/2019 - 5:00pm
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“As we speak,” was an oft-used phrase by Harbormaster Steve Land at the Harbors Committee meeting on Thursday, May 16. Beyond the confines of Town Hall moorings were being hauled out for placement in the Great Salt Pond by contractor Chris Reeves and the new peristaltic pump to offload the pump-out boats was being installed on the dock behind the Block Island Maritime Institute.

Up to now, the pump-out boats have done double duty — pumping sewage from boats and then offloading the sewage into the sewer system. The new pump will perform the offloading function, saving wear and tear on the boat pumps and speeding up the process significantly. Land said that 75 percent of the cost was being paid by a grant from the R.I. Department of Environmental Management.

In preparation for the boating season, the pump-out boats have been deployed, as has the marine patrol boat. Land said there are some visiting boaters and that marine patrol boat has already been put to use – performing two “rescues” to date.

Land would like to replace the 30-foot marine patrol boat and he is currently looking at the availability of grant funds for its acquisition. He said the current boat can “move a 90-foot boat” and the Department was looking at going up “one peg” in terms of boat and motor size.

Also, in preparing for the upcoming season, repairs have been made to the Harbormaster’s shack on the old barge at the New Harbor Boat Basin and a drone “test” has been performed in anticipation of conducting boat counts later in the summer. Land is utilizing Richard Payne, a licensed commercial drone pilot, to conduct the counts and during a test run at Champlin’s Marina, Land said you “could see the nails in the docks” even from a drone height of 270 feet.

Payne will fly the drone in a grid pattern over the GSP. During the process, Land said the drone would take 700 “stills’ that would then be stitched together to provide an aerial picture of the pond. Technology has its limits though, and the actual boat counting will need to be performed by a human.

Land said the boat counts were being performed at the request of the Town Council, and will be conducted over the Fourth of July holiday, VJ Day and Labor Day weekend.

The Harbors Committee will be sending a proposal to the Town Council advocating charging marinas five dollars per boat pumped out at those facilities over the summer. The marinas will be charged in the fall if the Council approves the recommendation. “It’s a good starting point,” said Land. “It’s not the ending point. It’s the starting point.”

Marina operators had been invited to the meeting, but only one showed up — Joe Grillo of Champlin’s Marina. When asked his opinion on the new policy, Grillo used what could be termed the universal body-language, including shoulder roll, for “it doesn’t matter to me.”

Land said the charge was limited to five dollars per boat to maintain compliance with DEM grants that they have received to support the pump-out program — amounts that Land termed as “massive.” “They never let me down.”

It won’t be happening this year, but plans are underway to replace the dock at the Coast Guard Station with a 125-foot fixed-pier dock. The current dock was pulled last fall for repairs and has been reinstalled for now. Land said the first goal for the new dock is to “get the USCG vessel back there” as opposed to being docked at Champlin’s. It is also anticipated that the new dock will accommodate the crew transfer vessels serving the Block Island Wind Farm and future wind farm projects in the area.

There was some concern about increased traffic on the road to the Coast Guard Station, but Land said he wasn’t worried about that. “It’s not going to turn into a public marina” with a dinghy dock he said.

Oyster farmer Chris Warfel attended the meeting with a request to have an upweller included in the new dock, which he said would be a great support for the aqua-culture community. He said it was difficult to site a new upweller. “You can’t create a new dock for an upweller, but you can include an upweller in a new dock.”

An upweller increases the flow of water — and thereby nutrients — through a tank containing baby shellfish to speed up their growth. The upweller would be part of the dock, but under it. (The town’s upweller at the Block Island Maritime Institute is barely visible.)

“I fully support it,” said committee member Erik Elwell, noting oysters’ ability to clean the water. “As long as it doesn’t interfere with what goes on in the summer.”

Member Pat Evans also said he would support it, but he didn’t want to see it as a “requirement” for new docks in general.

The language used in the agenda for the meeting was: “Discuss installation of upwellers in any new dock or at an expansion in a marina for use by the aquaculture entities on Block Island.”

Elwell asked if an upweller would need to be “integrated with the design of the dock?”

Warfel replied that it would, which was why he had asked for it to be put on the agenda for the meeting.

The Committee approved Warfel’s request to include an upweller in the design for the new dock. They also approved a motion to send a letter to the Town Council advocating for greater public access to the Coast Guard Station, in general. That facility, despite its name, is owned by the Town of New Shoreham.