No National Grid buoys at the beach this year

Thu, 06/27/2019 - 6:15pm
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National Grid said it will not be deploying a “no-anchor zone” at the Fred Benson Town Beach this summer. The move was precipitated by the town’s concerns about visual impact at the beach and to its tourism economy. Last year, National Grid deployed a field of a dozen buoys designating the anchor-free zone that flanked an exposed section of its sea2shore cable at the beach.

Last year, the town charged National Grid $189,450 to maintain, patrol, and enforce the no-anchor zone through the New Shoreham Harbors Department. Those monies were deposited into the town’s infrastructure fund.

But Town Manager Ed Roberge said money was not the issue.

“That’s not what our concern was,” said Roberge. “It is our opinion that the no-anchor zone presents a physical and visual impact to Town Beach. We want to preserve the reputation for that stretch of beach. That’s far more important than it being a revenue source.”

As a result, “National Grid has decided to forego the deployment of the buoys in 2019,” said Roberge. “I understand that their decision was in part to recognize the town’s concern with the physical and visual impacts to Town Beach, and we appreciate their consideration for the potential economic impacts to tourism to the Block Island community.”

Jessica Willi, the Executive Director of the Block Island Tourism Council, said that if the buoys are not required to be deployed “then that’s great.” She said beachgoers will not have to look at an unsightly buoy field floating off the Town Beach this summer.  

Michael Masseur, a spokesman for National Grid, said, “In light of the town’s most recent request, National Grid has made the decision to not install the buoys this summer. However, the no anchor zone, which is identified on marine maps, does remain in effect in an effort to prevent any interaction between the sea2shore cable and boat anchors. It’s also important to reiterate that the area remains safe for beachgoers and swimmers.”

“Last week the town reiterated their preference for not having the buoys installed, and after additional internal discussions, we ultimately agreed to meet the request,” said Masseur. “The no anchor zone remains in effect and we expect boaters in the area will continue to respect it.” 

Masseur noted that, “National Grid had been planning on installing buoys off Crescent Beach around this time to demarcate the no anchor zone. The deployment of these buoys has been an on-going discussion between National Grid and the town.”

The reason for the buoy field is to prevent anchors from snagging on National Grid’s sea2shore cable, which has become exposed over the years since it was installed in June of 2016 due to shifting sands and dense sediment in the surf zone. The Rhode Island Coastal Resources Council has ordered National Grid to reinstall the exposed section of its cable at the beach as a long-term solution. The company will be installing an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 feet of new cable at the beach.

To that end, Masseur said that National Grid was “still in the planning and engineering phase of a potential long-term solution. We don’t yet have a cost on what the long-term solution will be.”

“Under the current structure, the cost of owning, operating, and maintaining the sea2shore cable that connects Block Island with the mainland is supported by all Rhode Island customers through the Block Island Transmission Surcharge,” added Masseur. “The cost of reburying the cable due to observed sediment shifts would be reflected in the same surcharge that has been approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.” 

Masseur noted that National Grid is “reburying the cable to ensure that we can continue to provide safe and reliable service to Block Island for the years to come. It is important to note that National Grid is a regulated utility that must receive federal and state approval for rates.”  

Jeffery Wright, President of the Block Island Utility District, said FERC is the federal oversight committee that regulates tariffs imposed by utilities, such as National Grid. Wright said the BIUD can petition FERC to look into the rate structure filed by National Grid, but the legal fees to do so could be quite costly.

As for how the town allocates spending the $189,450, or any of the $508,920 in funds collected in its infrastructure fund, Finance Director Amy Land said at the town council’s June 19 meeting that the expenditures must be voted on at a Financial Town Meeting. Use of those funds need to be approved by the Town Council and voters at the FTM, said Land.

First Warden Ken Lacoste asked Land how monies from the infrastructure fund have been spent in the past. Land said funds were used, for example, to pay Tilson Technology for broadband consultant work in 2016/2017, and for the renovation of the doctor’s house.

Roberge said the intent of the fund is to provide financial support to the town’s specific infrastructure needs.