Thu, 11/26/2020 - 5:30pm

Testing for Covid-19
To the Editor:

As you are aware, the New Shoreham Sewer Commission has been testing wastewater samples for any presence of Covid-19 since April of this year. Going back eight months at the start of the pandemic in the U.S, the Block Island community was on high alert.

The testing for the virus then seemed a clear and defined purpose. It brought many of us comfort knowing the information. And I was approached by those who appreciated the New Shoreham Sewer Commission’s effort.

Yesterday, I stood in a line for over an hour with my family, waiting to be tested, and thinking about how long it would take to test the whole island. Later, I read a recent article published in The Journal of Science and the Total Environment. The reality and costs are daunting. The economic analysis of testing in the United States, according to the article, acknowledged that the U.S. still has only a limited clinical testing capacity, rendering individual screening of 330 million impractical. Besides, the study finds, this approach would be time-consuming, cost lives, and is cost-prohibitive. The clinical screening of all Americans leading to consumable supply costs alone at upwards of $3.5 billion per sampling event. Even if the cost of consumable supplies could be reduced through the introduction of paper-based technology, the costs and logistics of testing the entire population would still find this approach uncertain because of the need to retest populations and to isolate new or repeated infections.

A more realistic goal and cost-effective approach may be to screen for the virus by analyzing all 15,000 wastewater treatment plants across the country at an estimated cost of approximately $225,000 for each sampling event. Moreover, the combined use of sewer monitoring followed by clinical testing could save billions of dollars. Of course, this is one source, but cost savings using sewer monitoring may be significant.

Still of primary concern for decision-makers on the state and local levels is how we can obtain samples that do not represent the whole sewer collection system and how can sewer monitoring provide us more information than we already know? At a recent meeting of the New Shoreham Sewer Commission, this concern was voiced again. What is the value of sewer surveillance? Should the treatment facility be utilizing budgeted funds from rate-payers to pay for this? Is there any funding available from external sources?

Eight months ago, we talked about lives and what is a life worth if we can take action and help? Now, we must ask if the rate-payers would approve of such surveillance in the face of decision-makers finding little value. I must say, without collaboration from all authorities engaging in the discussions and asking questions, the value will certainly not be recognized. These are relevant questions, and we should persistently seek to answer them. More importantly, not just for those authorities themselves but also for the respect and integrity of each rate-payer, and for our community as a whole. To that end, I will do my best to provide answers to some of those questions.

How can we obtain samples that do not represent the whole sewer collection system?

Pump stations.

The wastewater pumping structures isolate large portions of communities and can provide a logical deduction. At best, pump stations or lift stations may solely serve a micro-community, such as a hospital or a school or college dormitory, or development community that may be monitored for community spread. Additionally, the utilization of battery-powered sampling instruments can provide proper sampling methods and even be used to break down concentrations in time. Global imaging and general mapping data, such as Google Earth and maps, will efficiently identify key priorities for monitoring opportunities.

How do we receive financial funding to implement Covid-19 sewer monitoring?

The third question is a question that I cannot currently answer and is the most challenging for someone in my position. The CARES Act funds are closed for now, and I do not know of any plans to provide financial assistance to wastewater treatment plants on the federal or state level. It is important for the community to understand that wastewater testing on Block Island may cease without financial assistance.

Please take note of our challenges ahead. Please take the time to speak and write to your State Representatives, Town Councilors, Town Manager, the Doctor, and Sewer Commissioners, if you have found value in having this information.

Formally, the CDC has established a national wastewater surveillance system. Evidence from prior decades confirms a recognized national wastewater monitoring system will be imperative for viral surveillance, particularly concerning complete eradication of the virus during vaccination. This method was used in the 1950s against the polio epidemic. Let’s get ahead of the curve. And please let me know if you can help the cause of wastewater testing in any way.

I wish you all a safe and happy holiday season.

All the best,
Dylan Chase
New Shoreham WastewaterTreatment Plant


A waste of money

To the Editor:

As Yogi Berra famously said: “It’s like deja vu all over again.”

When I had the distinct privilege of serving on the Town Council in 2016, I was very concerned that Deepwater Wind and National Grid had undertaken a very sophisticated cable connection project for which they had absolutely no experience or expertise.

I voiced my concern on the council and to The Block Island Times, stating to The Times on April 13, 2016 “That it was time for this group to walk the talk and convince Block Island that there is reason to believe that an entity... that has no experience in such a detailed engineering project is capable of completing this project safely and on time.”

Some on the Town Council unfortunately relied on the relationship with Deepwater and National Grid and believed their representations that they had done proper due diligence, which they clearly had not done.

Now in 2020/21, we witness a redo of the project with a projected cost of $60 million. Wow. What a terrible inconvenience to Block Island and a waste of money. I certainly hope the Block Island ratepayers are not going to be stuck with any portion of the project’s costs and also hope those costs will not be socialized.

Certainly, a lesson learned for the Town Council. Incidentally, I am certain that students in the offshore drilling program at Texas A&M would have completed this drilling project correctly, safely on time.

Terry Mooney

Sunset Hill


Tree lighting 2020-style

To the Editor:

We regret to inform you that the in-person Community Tree Lighting will not be happening this year.

Luckily, if there is one thing we’ve learned during this pandemic, it’s how to pivot! The tree is up at the Harbor Church (thanks to Santa’s Helpers — more on them later) and ready to be lit. We will have a virtual tree lighting with words of peace and prosperity from Pastor Peter, as well as a countdown to light the tree with Santa. This will be recorded and will be released on Tuesday, Dec. 1; which is when the lighting traditionally has been. There will be no gathering on the Harbor Church Lawn.

In addition, something new this year for the kids who are missing out on Santa at the tree lighting.

Santa will be placing clear ornaments filled with Christmas treats at various (approved) spots around the island.

On select days in December a clue will be released and Block Island resident children (up to age 14) are invited to go find this treat from Santa. There will be a set amount placed on each date — so if you miss one day, you can always try another. We will release the clues through social media and on the Bulletin Board.

There will be more information on this later, but for now if you have a Block Island resident child up to the age of 14 save these dates: Saturdays, Dec. 5, 12 and 19 and Tuesday, December 22.

It would be wonderful if you bring the ornament home and (after you empty the treats) you decorate the ornament and hang it on your tree.

So to recap;

No in person Community Tree Lighting.

Watch the tree get lit, virtually, on Dec. 1. The lighting will be released all over social media.

Get the kids in your life ready for a December Scavenger Hunt.

One more thing; if you don’t want to do the scavenger hunt, or you don’t fit the age range, there will be a container of candy canes under the tree starting Dec. 1. Help yourself to one! Ho Ho Ho!

Jessica Willi

Block Island Tourism Council