New computer, good; dinghy dock, bad

A look at the 2017 boating season
Fri, 10/06/2017 - 9:45am

With summer having wound down to an end, the Harbors Committee reflected on the ups and downs of the busy boating season and what could be done to improve it for next summer.

One of the “ups” was the implementation of a new computer system on Harbor Department boats to track the rentals for town moorings, and to collect mooring fees. One of the “downs” was the lack of public dinghy docks that drew complaints and letters to the Town Council and The Block Island Times throughout the summer. 

Although the Harbors Committee has been pursuing building a new boating facility with docks, a harbormaster’s office, and public bathroom and shower facilities, their plan failed to get off the ground when the town budget for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018, eliminated a requested $50,000 for an engineering study. When the B.I. Boat Basin reduced the space available at its dock for the public’s use this summer for dinghies, the problem came to the fore. 

Just last fall, the committee was focusing on Ball O’ Brien Park as the best location for a boating facility, but rumors of the sale of the Narragansett Inn have some members of the committee thinking of other possibilities.

Harbormaster Steve Land said that he needed to have a proposed budget for the next fiscal year in soon, and if he were to again propose funds for an engineering study, he would need a targeted location. “Until we have a site and say ‘we want our house here, and our dinghy dock here,’ it’s a pipe dream.”

When the committee returned to the subject after debating soliciting donations from boaters for the project, member Carl Kaufmann said: “People have said ‘why can’t you do something about a dinghy dock separate from a welcome center’?” He proposed a docking system that would be moveable, and easy to accomplish “so there’s something in the water next summer.” The docks could be done with either pilings or anchors,

Land said figuring out whether to use pilings or anchors was something that needed to be determined before asking the town for funds. “It can’t be a general idea,” he said, adding that since funds weren’t in the current budget, we “can’t have it until after July first.”

The Harbors clerk said that Committee Member Charles Gustafson, who was not at the meeting, had made some calls and priced some things out.

Land thought that 20 by eight foot docks could be acquired, perhaps 10 at a time. “This is a great idea, but we’re adding a huge maintenance” duty for our staff. He said he “dreamed about” having docks at Mosquito Beach (often called dinghy beach as boaters pull up onto the sand there) but would also like to see docks near the current Harbormaster’s shack. 

While the idea of movable dinghy docks was generally embraced, Kaufmann said: “There are a million questions,” one of which was “do we want to do it?”

Some on the committee argued that solving the problem of the dinghy docks might preclude the town from supporting a larger boating facility, and they had quite a lively discussion on the matter, leading Vice Chair Arlene Tunney to declare: “We desperately need dinghy docks.” 

“We need to put pressure on the Town Council,” said Land. “We have a new town manager – who’s an engineer.” 

After more discussion about pursuing docks separately from the larger facility, Land said, of the docks: “We can also build it ourselves.” He proposed ten docks be constructed and floats purchased so that the docks would go up the beach above the high tide line where they would be tied off or anchored in some way, and float on the tide.

“We need to provide services to boaters,” said member Pat Evans, “and a dinghy dock is part of that.” He asked: “What about more than one?”

Land said he would like to see one dock near the current location of the Harbor’s shack and one at Mosquito Beach. “They want to go to the beach.”

“They want two things,” said Tunney, “to go to dinner without getting their feet wet, and to go to the beach.”

“In Newport there are 10 different places where people can tie up,” said Kaufmann. “In Annapolis, there are 23.” He added that none of them had a bathroom or a shower.

Kaufmann made a motion to have the Harbormaster price out one or two dinghy docks that would be designed “to be portable and relocated as necessary.”

“You could also find an old used one,” said Land. 

Evans thought that maybe they could also find docks that could be donated.

The motion passed three to one, with member Gary Pollard voting in the negative as he felt that the docks alone could jeopardize the greater boating facility project.