Horns of a dilemma
First Warden Ken Lacoste’s ambivalence about raising dockage fees in Old Harbor is an example, writ small, of a larger dilemma Block Island faces. What kind of services and experience should the island provide to its residents and guests, and how will these services be paid for?
When Councilor Chris Willi suggested raising rates, a move opposed by Harbormaster Steve Land, Lacoste said it may be time to raise rates, but by how much? Land’s opinion is that the lower docking fees make the island attractive; we’re lower than in other seacoast communities. Fair point. But then again, if Block Island wants to provide more amenities for our maritime guests, such as a welcome center, new revenue is going to be needed.
Block Island has always prided itself on providing a unique experience; the island has its own authentic personality, but the tastes and expectation of travellers and residents are changing. We’ve seen air conditioning in hotels, as an example, become more the norm than the exception. The switch for the long-gestating high-speed internet network for five island anchor institutions is about to be flipped, and the more costly phase of wiring the entire island will begin next. There is talk of creating a community zone that could be the location of a community Other facilities may be needed because the island’s growing elderly population is now seeking ways that will allow them to age gracefully in place, which will require community infrastructure and services that are not currently offered.
Block Island is changing. With new, mainland management of the Boat Basin, and new off-island ownership of the Surf and other related properties, the idea that we are a chain-free business zone no longer applies. The changes to these properties may be incremental at first, but larger changes are inevitable. This will set a bar for other businesses on the island to contend with, which will also force the island to consider its own services and infrastructure.
But how much will this cost, and at what price?