Harbors in review
The Harbors Department is wrapping things up for the season and Harbormaster Kate McConville has made her end-of-season report to the Town Manager, the Harbors Committee, the Shellfish Commission, and the Committee for the Great Salt Pond.
In short, the docks, marinas, harbors, and waterways were very busy during the 2021 season.
McConville reported 900 to 1000 boats consistently in the harbors on holiday weekends, which translated into the highest New Harbor mooring rental revenue in the past five years. The wharfage revenues in Old Harbor were also at their highest level in five years.
While fees went up this year, the fee increase alone does not account for the numbers. Boaters were back to the island in levels similar
to pre-pandemic years. Additionally, the dredging done in Old Harbor during the off-season allowed for more boats to be accommodated. Old Harbor Dockmaster Josh Moore reported that the dredging had gained around 100 feet of dock space.
McConville told the Harbors Committee that she wanted the dredging to be kept up, as it is in the budget annually. She also mentioned the need for dredging in New Harbor near the public dinghy dock. While the Army Corps of Engineers dredges the channel and entrance to the Great Salt Pond, they do not dredge all the way down to the dinghy dock. McConville explained that the Army does not consider that area as being for commercial use.
“You have Block Island Maritime Institute, the little marina along the roadway (Hogpen), and Ken Lacoste’s (business); it’s pretty hard to
say it’s not a commercial waterway,” Harbors Committee Member Carl Kaufmann said.
“The charter boats hit bottom going out,” McConville said. “I would (dredge) from BIMI halfway to Payne’s.” The group agreed the town, as the government body, would have to address the Army Corps of Engineers to request the dredging.
The harbormaster also discussed the ongoing problem with the breakwall between Old Harbor and Ballard’s. Sand has accumulated on top of the breakwall.
“When did they stop knocking the sand down every year?” McConville asked the committee. She compared dredging the sand every other year to “putting a band-aid” on the problem, rather than knocking the sand down below the level of the breakwall.
Chair Denny Heinz quickly addressed the elephant in the room: “Ballard’s claims they own the beach.”
He followed it up by saying, “the Town needs to say 'you don't own that beach.'”
Kaufmann said, “We have to figure out an overall strategy on that whole piece of land. Is it time to ask the town solicitor to take a look and define the jurisdiction? We need to clear the air and come up with a battle plan.”
McConville told the committee she would approach Ballard’s ownership to inform them of the plan.
It was a good year for shellfishing, with license revenue reaching the highest mark in five years. The Harbors Department operated the upweller at BIMI, with McConville saying she was “impressed” with the growth of the oysters. She also grew a bag of oysters outside the upweller as an experiment, and reported these oysters grew as much as the others.
She told the Shellfish Commission she would like to try soft shell clams next year, although there was some discussion about BIMI taking over upweller operations. McConville relayed to the group that the upweller is very labor intensive, and without much volunteer help, the work falls onto her and her staff. It is not a popular assignment for the staff, apparently.
“It’s like pulling teeth to get them to clean it,” McConville said. Changes to the upweller, including location, who operates it, and what is grown in it have to be cleared through Rhode Island Coastal Resource Management Council.