A look back at a year of change

Fri, 12/29/2017 - 9:30am

The following stories are not listed in order of importance:

1. Plastic bags banned

The New Shoreham Town Council voted unanimously at its Nov. 15 meeting to ban plastic bags for the retail checkout of goods. Block Island follows other communities like Newport, Middletown, Barrington, and Jamestown in adopting the ordinance to prohibit the use of single-use plastic bags in retail stores. First Warden Ken Lacoste told The Block Island Times that the ban would include penalties similar to those enforced in those towns. The fines for violating the ordinance call for a 14-day notice of violation for a first offense, followed by a $150 fine for the first violation, and a $300 fine for subsequent violations. The ban will be added to the town’s Health and Sanitation ordinance and go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018. 


2. Fred Benson Beach Pavilion renovations

Renovation plans for the Fred Benson Beach Pavilion have been upgraded to include two dormitory-style rooms. Lincoln-based Mill City Construction was awarded the contract for the project on Aug. 17, and commenced work on Sept. 18. The contractor bid $843,585, and is working under a budget of $940,000, which includes $140,000 in contingency. On Dec. 20, the Town Council authorized $21,046.58 from contingency to finance the addition of the rental units, with three total beds, to house seasonal town staff. The units will be used to house lifeguards. The renovation project is expected to be completed in May.


3. Board of Utility Commissioners elected

Although there was a hiccup during the first try, Town of New Shoreham ratepayers cast 1,643 ballots on Oct. 24 and elected a five-member Board of Utility Commissioners to begin a new era at the power company. The Board members are: Barbara MacMullan (Chair), William Penn, Everett Shorey, Jack Savoie, and Mary Jane Balser. The Commissioners, who were elected to govern and set policy, are in the process of forming the new Block Island Utility District. At a recent Town Council meeting, First Warden Ken Lacoste, who is the Council representative on the Block Island Power Company Board of Directors, said the Utility District will “be the operational entity for the power company, for power sales and generation on the island.” 


4. The Block Island Wind Farm

At 5:30 a.m. on May 1, 2017 the old, noisy diesel generators at the Block Island Power Company were shut down, and the Block Island Wind Farm began providing wind-generated energy to the island for the very first time. After the diesel generators were turned off, and silenced, workers at BIPCo said they could hear the birds chirping. A press release issued by BIPCo that day stated: “The silence is symbolic of saving nearly one million gallons of diesel fuel annually.” It also noted that BIPCo’s “Standard Offer and Transmission Charge that is a combined 12.44 cents per kilowatt-hour, would replace the Fuel Cost Adjustment charge” of 16.82 cents/kWh on a ratepayer’s electric bill.


5. New Town Manager hired

The New Shoreham Town Council voted 4 to 1, with Councilor Chris Willi dissenting, to approve the contract of new Town Manager, Edward Roberge, at a special meeting held on Nov. 8. Roberge, who was hired on Sept. 25, has been City Engineer for the City of Concord, New Hampshire since August 2005, will begin his tenure in office on Jan. 8. Roberge endured the challenges of finding housing on the island, which is an issue that he said will be a priority for him as Town Manager. Shirlyne Gobern has been serving as Interim Town Manager since February.


6. Norris Pike passes at 65

Norris Pike, who served many years in town government on various boards and committees, and most recently as Second Warden, passed away on Nov. 24 at his home on Block Island. Pike had been battling cancer for several years, and regularly attended Town Council meetings, and kept working,  up until his death. Pike was a direct descendant of one of Block Island’s original settlers, Trustrum Dodge, and always pursued what was best for Block Island. He loved his little island.


7. Dinghy dock space

The reduction of dinghy dock space at the Boat Basin in New Harbor created issues for Harbormaster Steve Land and his staff this past summer season. One issue with the dinghy dock is that half of the dock is situated in shallow water, and there is practically no water at low tide. That makes it challenging for boaters to dock their dinghies. Land and the Harbors Committee are now seeking solutions to the problem, including the potential utilization of floating docks, so that it is addressed before the 2018 summer boating season.


8. RIAC’s plans for Westerly Airport

Due to the dangerous height of trees on neighboring private property, the Rhode Island Airport Corporation went from proposing to shutter all four of Westerly Airport’s runways, to possibly shortening the length of three, or all four of the runways. In response, the Westerly Town Council approved sending a letter to RIAC announcing the Council’s formal opposition to RIAC’s shortening plan. A letter received by Westerly Town Manager Derrik Kennedy from RIAC’s legal counsel noted that the continued shortening of the airport’s runways “could ultimately lead to the closure of the airport.” The New Shoreham Town Council will be discussing the matter at a meeting in the New Year.


9. Block Island broadband initiative

The year began with broadband consultant Tilson Technology proposing an $8.3 million island-wide fiber-to-the-premises broadband network at Town Hall that the company said could be built in two phases over a one-year period. After the community voiced its displeasure with the costly proposal, the Town Council appointed an advisory group, the Broadband Committee, to explore alternative options, and find a less costly, more functional solution. The Committee is exploring a smaller project that would begin with connecting the Block Island School, the Island Free Library, and the Medical Center to the fiber optics in the sea2shore cable, to showcase how a broadband network could work on the island.  


10. Humpback whales wash ashore

Two humpback whales washed ashore on Block Island in 2017. One whale washed ashore at Ballard’s Beach, and the other at the base of the Mohegan Bluffs. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told The Block Island Times that the whale strandings were part of a “declared unusual mortality rate” that they had been monitoring since January of 2016. While some publications were quick to blame the Block Island Wind Farm for the whale deaths, researchers at the University of Rhode Island said that was “highly unlikely.” The researchers noted that there are low noises emitted from the wind farm; that construction is long past; and that the whales themselves are louder than the wind farm’s turbines.    


11. Block Island on the quarter

The U.S. Mint announced that it will be featuring the North Lighthouse and the Block Island National Wildlife Refuge on a quarter at the end of 2018. The National Park Quarters website notes that what makes the coin unique is that out of 56 locations to be honored in the America the Beautiful Quarters program series, the Block Island National Wildlife Refuge is one of only two that depict a wildlife refuge. Of the quarter, Kim Gaffett, Naturalist for the Nature Conservancy, said, “I think the quarter design is a great mix of how people and nature have to coexist.”