A look back at 2022 and forward to 2023
As 2022 comes to a close, some of Block Island’s biggest news stories will also go the way of the calendar and some will stick around well into the new year, and perhaps, beyond.
This year, islanders closed the books on the Champlin’s Marina expansion as after almost 20 years the Rhode Island Supreme Court made a final ruling on the matter that effectively denied the expansion. But Champlin’s wasn’t the biggest story of 2022 although many would consider it the most important.
By page view counts on The Block Island Times website, the biggest story of 2022 was of course about Ballard’s Beach Resort and the events surrounding that venue’s annual Reggae Fest that this year took place on the Rhode Island state holiday of Victory Day, Monday, August 8. Our story “Melee on Block Island ferry causes Mass Casualty Incident Response” garnered 20,332 views.
The melee in question happened on one of the ferries attempting to get hordes of concertgoers and other island visitors back to the mainland after the all-day music festival at Ballard’s where crowds trampled fences in order to get into the already over-crowded event by bypassing the front doors. Frustrated festival goers and others waited in long lines to board the final ferries of the night, and an extra voyage was added. Tempers flared.
When a fight broke out on the ferry, calls went out to emergency response agencies on the mainland and the boat was boarded by mainland police who jumped onto the car deck from a U.S. Coast Guard vessel. It was, needless
to say, a national news story and set in motion a series of special meetings of the New Shoreham Town Council, sometimes acting as the Board of License Commissioners.
When the Board of License Commissioners suspended Ballard’s liquor and entertainment licenses for two weeks as a result, Ballard’s owner Steve Filippi immediately filed for stays within the courts. Ensuing articles confirmed readers’
interest with “Island community pushes back” getting 5,799 page views, and almost 3,500 for “Ballard’s ordered not to have live music performances until court review on September 8.”
After several meetings in closed session, the town and Ballard’s arrived at a settlement in November, just in time for
the renewal of the venue’s liquor and entertainment licenses. The result, Ballard’s agreed to hold no more music festivals, or to have more than two bands outdoors on any given day, and they agreed to provide enhanced security. The Times story “No more music festivals at Ballard’s” attracted 9,061 readers.
And when the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council issued several violations to Ballard’s for lack of permission, or “assents,” in late September, an entirely new story was born – one that attracted 4,000 readers. Last week when news broke that Ballard’s had finally applied to the CRMC for four tiki bars and an outdoor stage, all of which the owner considers temporary mobile structures, another few thousand readers (and counting) paid attention. As the CRMC considers the application, that will most likely include input from island residents, this is a story that is sure to stick around for a while.
By readership, the second biggest story of 2022 was “Bethany’s Airport Diner closes after almost 30 years.” When the Rhode Island Airport Corporation upped the rent and put more restrictions on the business in late summer, Bethany Campbell Coviello chose not to renew her lease after serving islanders and tourists, as well as many a U.S. Coast Guardsman stopping by on a training flight in their helicopter, heaping plates of breakfast foods and bowls of steamy “Ma’s Chowda” for lunch.
Coviello hopes to try her hand next summer with “grab and go” foods served up from a food truck. And there’s still no word as to a new tenant for the diner space at the airport.
Coming in at number three (4,675 page views) was “Police Chief Moynihan stuns with sudden resignation.” After just one year on the job as Block Island’s chief, Moynihan was offered the top job in South Kingstown in May, and off he
went. Moynihan was most lauded for cracking down on the misbehavior of moped riders during the summer of 2021.
An attempt to find a permanent replacement was unsuccessful this past summer when the recommended candidate withdrew his application at the very last minute. Results of a second search should be coming soon.
The next most popular story was not even about Block Island, but about Galilee. “Changes coming for the Lighthouse Inn,” attracted 4,085 readers, many of whom have fond memories of staying at the inn and swimming in its pool or lounging in its hot tubs while parrots flitted about.
The property has mainly been used as a parking lot for the past several years and the owner, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, put development of the property out to bid, but so far hasn’t accepted any and demolition of the building has been put on hold.
“Finn’s changes hands for second time in one year,” was the next most-read story. The iconic seafood restaurant was purchased in early summer by T.J. Martucci of East Greenwich, who owns several other restaurants on the mainland. Currently, the building, which lies in the Historic District, is undergoing extensive renovations. While it will look pretty much the same, gone is the red roof in favor of one that is almost black. Martucci hopes to be open
by next summer.
Other “big” stories on the island included a blizzard, and both a boat and a whale washing ashore. (Not at the same time.) But perhaps the biggest story of 2022, or at least the one that moved people the most, was the passing of Mary Donnelly at age 94 in May.
Donnelly, the island’s only nurse for decades, doled out both healthcare and money as she famously headed up the Mary D. Fund, helping islanders in need with financial assistance. Donnelly, always with a glint in her eyes, would make house calls for whatever was needed, including cutting toenails and checking for head lice. She was beloved by generations and is sorely missed, even as daughter Marguerite Donnelly and others continue her charitable work.