A beloved island, with a price
To the Editor:
On July 19, my son passed away on Block Island, and while we are still awaiting an official cause of death, it seems clear that substance abuse played a role. I’m writing this letter to all the residents of New Shoreham, all those who live there year-round, and more importantly to the young people who flock to the island during the summer months. My son was one of those young people. He loved the time he spent there, meeting people from all over the world and working for several establishments.
I understand how much your community depends on the tourist season and how hard you must all work to protect the image of Block Island. It is a beautiful place, isolated from the normal rat race of the mainland and a perfect escape for so many. But we also have to be honest and admit that this ocean paradise is not exempt from the opioid epidemic that is sweeping the area. Rhode Island is one of the top ten states in the nation for drug overdoses and it’s something that each of us has to take seriously.
In this digital age, people leave a trail of their activities that previous generations did not, and my son was no different. What has become clear to me from this trail is that he was among a group of Block Island residents involved in an almost daily quest for drugs. This is happening in many places, but the island is unique in that the summer help needed to service the influx of tourists consists predominantly of young people, many who are away from home for the first time. They are excited to be on their own, to party and have fun and do what young people do. It’s a time of experimentation, they are young and feel invincible. I know because many years ago I was one of them and there is nothing wrong with having fun, as long as they don’t cross that line into illegal substance abuse. But many of them, many more than you or I would like to admit are crossing that line.
Despite what we want to think, the biggest influence on young people is often not their parents, it is more often their friends. Where one young person gives into the scourge of drugs, others will as well. I applaud those that resist, and encourage them not to isolate the addicts, but to reach out to them to offer help. Tell someone. You are not being a rat, you are saving a life. I don’t blame anyone for my son’s death, and I’m certainly not blaming any specific community, that is not the purpose of this letter. But as a grieving father, the only way I can get through this is to make his passing mean something. To try and stop another family from going through what we are. I ask each of you to put the lives of our young people on the top of your priority list.
So, I urge each resident of New Shoreham to demand that steps are taken to stem the flow of drugs into your community. I know that it is easier to ignore, to publish letters like this one in the off-season, to put it off and hope that someone else will find a way to stop this trend. I get that your livelihood depends on a healthy and clean image of your island home. But I’m also reminded of one of the biggest movies of all time, “Jaws.” The residents of that community were so concerned about a healthy tourist season that they ignored the facts and chose to keep their blinders on. Everything was okay, there were no sharks in those waters. It was just a paranoid man making a mountain out of a molehill. Well they paid an awful price in the end. Don’t pay the same price, because next time it could be your son or daughter, husband, sister or brother. The shark is circling your island and it’s time to get a bigger boat and hunt the beast.
In closing, I must thank everyone on the island who has been so kind to us as we struggle to understand what happened. In many ways it has renewed my faith in humanity. Don’t misinterpret this letter as criticism because that is not my intent. I simply want to convey to you that the only ones who can stop these senseless deaths is us. Each of us has a stake in it, each of us must be committed to it. And I know that if we work together, if we decide once and for all to put an end to this epidemic that is taking our kids, that we can succeed.
North Stonington, CT
Saga of the cable
To the Editor:
It really has been a hot summer, so more time has been spent at the beach this year than others. It is a stress-free zone, or at least should be. Sitting in my beach chair absorbing the rays that I consider to be very beneficial to our body, I see the new white buoys just off shore. There are 12 of them demarcating a path to the shoreline where the sea2shore cable is buried. The buoys are quite a bit off shore where the cable was found to be lying on the ocean floor, rather than under it. Hence a move to mark the area so as not to have boat anchorage. The cable was placed about two years ago with every bit of safety confidence guaranteed by all involved, including the Town Council.
Unfortunately, we suddenly heard that the cable wasn't placed properly and now, especially within hundreds of feet or so of our shore, it is vulnerable to boat traffic. Somehow, the route of the cable goes literally too close to our Fred Benson Beach Pavilion, and the crowded beach adjacent, tunneling under the dunes to a transfer box in the parking lot. It was always a concern to me, but not until a few days ago did I realize how drastically the problem increased. Again, in my chair, I see a commotion out in the water at low tide. Happy children playing on what they thought was a toy, a long bright yellow pipe of sorts, they laughed and played in the shallow water. Having to investigate, sure enough it was the cable. Now what I'm looking at are playful children on 34,500 volts of electricity in the water.
Reassured by local individuals knowledgeable about these things, and with not a one wanting to claim any responsibility for this debacle, the answer was "it's perfectly safe.” Needing a bit more intelligent information, I pressed on. Keep in mind that the Town Council approved all of this.
However, our new Town Manager came out, got into the water seeing it for himself and began the dialogue of what to do next. So: "It's perfectly safe," but do you want your child or any child playing on this? At that time, the hundreds of beachgoers were totally unaware of the cable, with people on the shore on blankets and chairs sitting above this cable on the sandy beach each and every day.
My stress-free zone is now pocked with white buoys, yellow electric cable, five wind turbines, and probably more safety buoys on the way. So sad when all we could see just a few months ago was beautiful Crescent Beach, Scotch, and Mansion, along with glorious Clay Head.
Beacon Hollow Farm
Who is “we?”
To the Editor:
I read Nancy Dodge’s letter to the editor stating that, “we cannot give up now and must resist the ferry.” Who is the “we” Mrs. Dodge refers to?
When we drive around our island, we see people and business we have grown up with just barely scraping by, as utility rates and the cost of doing business steadily increase.
We see a Medical Center that has resorted to alms as a financial plan because of a lack of funding.
We see roads in disrepair and our neighbors struggling to make it through the winter, all the while being forced to pay monthly utility bills that would fund a mortgage on the mainland. We remember being told we would all benefit from lower utility bills when we connected to the mainland grid.
We see a new multi-million dollar broadband project that will be added to the community debt load that won’t serve the vast majority of island residents and businesses, despite our being led to believe that this was to be part of the Wind Farm deal.
We see an 80-year ferry monopoly that is choking our collective prosperity built atop an obsolete business model — one that has faced no serious inquiry from our town government as passenger and freight rates have ballooned while, perplexingly, total ferry ridership has steadily increased.
We see that our Town Council led the charge to add nearly $2 million more in debt to buy BIPCo, including a polluted power plant, and agreed to assume all unknown historical environmental liability of BIPCo’s former owners, much of it unrelated to power generation and therefore not the responsibility of rate-payers.
We see that key environmental reports about the BIPCo pollution were withheld and not released to the public until the last possible moment before the crucial public vote to purchase the utility. While reasonable minds can differ about whether it was a good idea to buy BIPCo, it was unacceptable to hide environmental data and misrepresent that all liabilities from existing pollution (most of it not from power generation) “would have been the ratepayers’ responsibility anyway.”
We see that despite what we were told, we must pay for the hundreds of thousands of dollars expended to connect our dilapidated island grid to the National Grid substation.
We see that instead of working together as a community, most of the key discussions about the wind farm, BIPCo purchase and the ferry monopoly have been held behind the black curtain of Town Council closed sessions, shielding our elected officials from public scrutiny. We know that there is no law that requires the Town Council to go into closed session. It is their choice – one that is exercised far too often.
We see that the former Town Manager, after pushing through the BIPCo purchase as Town Manager, now sits as Chair of the BIPCo Board. We see that the BIPCo lawyer also represents the ferry monopoly, who, and along with the Town Solicitor, desperately fight to keep the ferry monopoly as the only game in town — all on our ratepayer/taxpayer dime and at our ultimate expense.
When we see all of this, it becomes clear we deserve better.
A fond goodbye
To the Editor:
Last week, Glen Pence quietly moved off Block Island. Glen served this island community in countless ways during his time living here. Among them, he worked as proprietor of his own sandwich shop with some of the best soups to ever grace Block Island; as the lunch man who fed School students every day, and always with a smile; as a member of F.I.S.H. (Friends in Service Helping); and perhaps most lovingly as Mr. Sister, the incomparable evening chef at Three Sisters.
I met Glen 20-plus years ago when, as a part of F.I.S.H., he began helping my grandparents with various tasks around the house that were becoming difficult for elderly people.
He eventually moved in at Hove To and lived for the better part of a decade; he was considered a member of our family. We kids took to affectionately calling him ‘Uncle Glen’. During this time, he lived in our uninsulated boathouse deep into the shoulder seasons. For weeks on end, he’d subsist entirely off the sea and whatever he was able to forage from the land. At one point, he told me proudly that the entire cost of a clam dinner he’d fixed for a large group of people was $3.00 for some carrots and onions. He was a wonderful chef/cook, and fed so many happy mouths on this island. He knows so much about the flora and fauna of B.I., what is edible in nature and where on the island one could find it.
I know I feel as so many do — blessed to have had him as part of our island family for so long. Here’s to you, Glen, and to all the beauty you have brought, instilled, and kept alive on this island. You are a huge loss to our community, we will miss you, and we will see you again.
To the Editor:
The Block Island chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMBI-BI) would like to applaud the Medical Center and the school for funding the hiring of a clinical psychologist, Dr. Peter Oppenheimer. NAMI-BI has been advocating for more mental/behavioral health services since the passing of Ross Campbell in 2010. The need for behavioral health services for child, adolescent, and adult populations is well documented and the employment of Oppenheimer is a step in right direction.
Reducing the impact of substance abuse and mental illness in our community is a worthy cause in which we all have a role to play. NAMI-BI is pleased to play its role in this effort by bringing mental health services to the island through telemedicine, educating the public about mental illness to reduce the stigma through TED Talks and our annual conference in May, and providing support to families of persons with mental illness through our monthly Family Support Group.
We are indeed fortunate to have Dr. Oppenheimer join our forces in addressing behavioral health issues in our island community as there is a shortage of professionals in this field. Employment opportunities for substance abuse and mental health counselors is forecasted to rise by 27 percent from 2016 to 2020 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.