Thu, 11/02/2017 - 9:00pm

Vote yes to ban the bags

To the Editor:

Banning single-use plastic bags on Block Island is the right thing to do, and an important step towards increasing environmental responsibility on our beautiful island. What seemed to delay the Town Council’s action on this matter at the October meeting were questions related to efficacy, implementation, and concerns of hardship. I’d like to respond to some of the questions that have been raised related to this ban.

Question: Is it worth it if banning single-use bags won’t stop all problems associated with plastic pollution?

Response: Large improvements are built on the foundation of small, more manageable changes. Stopping single-use plastic bags from entering our oceans, roadsides, and landfills is a crucial step towards reduction of plastics overall.

Question: Wouldn’t recycling of single-use bags, or the use of compostable bags be an alternative solution?

Response: In reality, very few single-use bags are actually recycled, and recycling does not prevent the manufacture of billions more. Recycled bags are melted and used to make more bags, or other types of plastic products. While it’s better than putting them in landfills, it does not reduce our overall dependence on and manufacture of plastic (which is made from petroleum), and the process is time consuming and costly. Compostable bags break down faster, but only if they are carefully composted in the appropriate conditions, and they also are usually just thrown away.

Question: Isn’t it unfair that single-use bags would still arrive on the island in cars, on the ferry, and in PeaPod containers?

Response: Unless all communities nationwide ban single-use plastic bags, they can still be brought to Block Island. People can load them into their cars on the mainland and grocery stores in other towns can include them in delivery containers. I can’t see how this relates to a ban in Block Island stores. We can take a step forward without waiting for all communities to make the change at the same time, and provide an example for others to follow.

Question: Will it be a hardship for business owners?

Response: Businesses do not have to provide “expensive” reusable bags, or even paper bags, free of charge. Sell good reusable bags at a profit at the checkout counter, and/or charge customers a bit for paper bags if necessary. Once people realize that forgetting their reusable bags costs them a little money, they will either remember more often or pay the fee. If businesses need time to use up bags they have already purchased, delay the implementation of the ban long enough for them to accomplish this. Or better still, let’s hold a fundraiser and buy out the stocks of their existing plastic bags, recycle that one last set, and start fresh.

Question: Do tourists need plastic bags with handles to carry their groceries and other purchases from harbor to harbor?

Response: Reusable bags have handles that can fit over your shoulder, are stronger than single-use plastic (these often blow out at the seams), and are easy to come by. We can inform tourists well in advance of the ban, and sell them the bags they need if they don’t bring their own.

Single-use plastics clog our landfills, degrade extremely slowly into toxic compounds that end up in our soil and water supply, litter our roadways and oceans and choke marine life. Let’s do the right thing by banning them on Block Island and carrying our reusable bags with pride.  We can do this Block Island! Encourage your Town Council members to vote in favor of the single use plastic bag ban.

Susan Gibbons

Amy Dodge Lane

High School Science Teacher

Vice-President, Block Island Conservancy


BIPCo rate adjustment

To the Editor: 

In this week’s legal section, the PUC has posted proposed rate adjustments for our Standard Offer and Transmission rates. This adjustment is required every six months as a reconciliation of actual costs from the previous six months and forecasted costs for the next six months. We will run a complete story on this and other rate forecasts in next week’s edition of The Block Island Times.

Jeffery Wright, President, BIPCo


URI responds to whale deaths

To the Editor:

Researchers at the University of Rhode Island (URI) feel it is important to explain from a scientific view why it is highly unlikely the whale’s death had anything at all to do with a turbine from the Block Island Wind Farm. Since 2007, when we undertook significant studies, through the rigorous Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan (Ocean SAMP) process, to understand how wind farms could impact ocean animals, including whales, we have learned a great deal about what does, and doesn’t, pose threats to them. 

This information has been widely shared through the years, and we’re pleased to share it once more. Here are some key facts, from both biological science and acoustical science perspectives — both integral to understanding how human technology interacts with marine animals — and we’re sharing several peer-reviewed, academic papers at the end of this, should people want to read more extensively:

1) Low Wind Farm noise: The noise from the Block Island Wind Farm wind turbines has been measured at about 100 underwater decibels (dB) at a range of about 50 meters. This is very low and only detectable when ships are not nearby and when the wind is not too strong.

2) Construction is long past: Pile driving occurred in August, September, and October of 2015 for the wind farm and is almost certainly not the cause of the recent strandings of humpback whales.

3) Whales themselves are louder than turbines: The source levels of social calls of humpback whales have been measured to be 123 to 183 underwater dB at one meter. Scientists have measured fin whale vocalizations near the Block Island Wind Farm at more than 140 underwater dB at a range of 500 meters and this agrees with published work that shows the source level of fin whales to be more than 180 underwater dB.

It’s worth noting a few general, widely known points useful for the public. For example, neither humpback nor minke whales use echolocation (sonar) at all, and minkes do not live in families and are, essentially, not social. Also, the humpback Unusual Mortality Event started over a year ago. And, the average number of humpback strandings per year, before there were any wind turbines in operation along the East Coast, was about 11.

We welcome any questions people may have, and are pleased to provide these resources, some of the key data for the facts above, for anyone to read: 

1) Dunlop, R., D. Cato, M. Noad and D. Stokes, “Source levels of social sounds in migrating humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae),” J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 134, 706 (2013); doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1121/1.4807828.

2) Giard, J., J. H. Miller, G. R. Potty, A., Newhall, Y.T. Lin, and M. F. Baumgartner, “Analysis of fin whale vocalizations south of Rhode Island,” J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 141, 3941 (2017); doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1121/1.4988927 (poster presented at the 173rd Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America and the 8th Forum Acusticum, June 2017)

3) Miller, J. H., G. R. Potty, Y. T. Lin, A. Newhall, K. J. Vigness-Raposa, J. Giard, T. Mason, “Overview of underwater acoustic and seismic measurements of the construction and operation of the Block Island Wind Farm,” J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 141, 3993 (2017); doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1121/1.4989144 (paper presented at the 173rd Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America and the 8th Forum Acusticum, June 2017)

4) 2016-2017 Humpback Whale Unusual Mortality Event along the Atlantic Coast:  http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/health/mmume/2017humpbackatlanticume.html

Thank you for sharing this information with your readers — it’s important that people care for ocean animals and other issues, but they need the best available science in order to do so.

Bob Kenney, Ph.D, Emeritus Marine Research Scientist, URI Graduate School of Oceanography (rkenney@uri.edu)

Jim Miller, Sc.D, Professor of Ocean Engineering and Oceanography, University of Rhode Island (miller@uri.edu


Returning to his roots

To the Editor:

On Thursday, Oct. 26, my companion, Ms. Barbara Silber, and I attended a ceremony at the German Consulate in New York City.

I was awarded a document establishing my citizenship in the Federal Republic of Germany.

About 30 individuals were present, all of them being U.S citizens, but having ancestral ties to earlier family members of Jewish faith; many having been lost in the Holocaust.

There was only one other gentleman besides myself who was actually born in Germany.

An extremely kind and courteous man, who was the Charge d’ Affairs, fluent in English, bade us welcome. Shortly thereafter, the champagne began to flow copiously.

With some hesitancy, I said that one reason for my requesting German citizenship was to support Prime Minister Angela Merkel’s opposition to President Trump. I was gratified that this was met by loud cheers and applause.

Ms. Silber and I left the Consulate and repaired to the Heidelberg Restaurant in the Yorkville — the German section — of Manhattan where we treated ourselves to a very German repast.

It was a very special day.


Robert Newhouse

Spring Street