Location of Harbormaster office becoming a concern

At Harbor's Committee
Fri, 02/27/2015 - 9:45am

The work being done on the breakwater at Old Harbor was a topic of discussion at this month's Harbor's Committee meeting on Thursday, Feb. 19. The discussion started with how big the rocks needed to be in order not to be pushed around by the waves, and moved onto whether the height would be a problem in 20 years, given the rising sea levels. That discussion preceded the committee's actionable items on their agenda.  

Hermann "Bo" Gempp presented a report from the Shellfish Commission about aquaculture equipment. There have been some complaints about shellfish aquacultural equipment washing up on beaches around the island. According to Gemmp, these are unmarked and are not town-issued, so no one knows who they belong to.

A letter has been sent to the Rhode Island Head of Aquaculture about how best to address this problem. At this point, the committee is unsure what enforcement tools they have available to them, but hope to get that information soon to combat the problem.

Floats in the Great Salt Pond have been damaged by the ice this winter. "They haven't weathered well," noted member Dennis Heinz. While smaller floats have been removed, larger ones still remain on the water. Part of this is due to confusion on where to put them once they are removed. The Costal Resource Management Council (CRMC) has in the past expressed some concern about storing the floats on beaches but exactly what that means is unclear to the Harbors Committee members.

The issue of where the Harbormaster will spend the summer is in question.

Member Gary Pollard submitted two letters to the Town Council in late January, which were emailed to other members for discussion. In the second, more detailed letter, Pollard implored the Council to "investigate potential sites in New Harbor to build a town dinghy dock that includes a harbor master's office, which would lead to a shoreside bathroom and shower facility."  He also included three potential locations that would fulfill most, if not all, of these needs: "An area of private property between the Boat Basin and Payne's dock... Land Trust property Plat 5 Lot 69-7, that borders the west side of the Boat Basin property...[or] a town owned property at the shoreside portion of the Ball O'Brien Park."

"The Harbors Committee is acting as an advisory for the council," Pollard said.

The barge on which the small Harbormaster's office has been located for many years has been condemned, and a new site for the office must be located. Currently there is no long-range plan, but Administrative Assistant Tracy Fredricks said that it is likely that the Harbormaster will need a temporary work space. An office trailer can be acquired, as an example of one possible solution, but it's unknown where it would be situated.

"We can't say anything about it yet," said Fredricks. "We're waiting to hear."

No word has yet been received on the Block Island Boat Basin electrical issue, which needs to be upgraded before it's opened for the season. "It's all question marks at this point," said member Carl Kaufmann. Permits need to be acquired before things go further. No formal discussion has happened on this issue yet. Committee members noted that if the dock doesn't open, then there will be no dinghy dock. "There would be a lot of dinghies on the beach," noted Kaufmann. He added that it would change the taxi fleet, policing, and businesses nearby. "It would change the economics of the whole pond," he said. "It would have a major impact on the community." A decision on this issue will be needed by March.

In other news, the Moorings Bill (Rhode Island House Bill 5257) that has been submitted by two lawmakers in the Rhode Island House was a major source of concern at the meeting. The bill, which would send mooring fees to the state's Department of Environmental Management (DEM) rather than the town, was unanimously regarded by the Harbors Committee as a bad idea. 

Rhode Island State Representative Blake Filippi (I. Dist. 36) has stated that he is opposed to the bill, which he calls, "Totally foolish."

"DEM was not consulted [and] DEM does not support the bill," said DEM Director Janet Coit.

Fredricks offered to seek out more information about what is being done on Block Island and by its residents in order to combat passage of the bill. She said she will bring that information to members as soon as it is acquired.