Opening up the Coast Guard Station?
The Block Island Residents Association is exploring the possibility of the town opening up a public park at the Coast Guard Station. The town has owned the facility since the 1990s, with the Coast Guard discontinuing year round operations in the late 1980s. The Coast Guard still has a presence on the island during the summer, but docks their boat at Champlin’s Marina.
There has been interest in expanding the dock at the station and opening up parts of the property to the public for several years,
with money budgeted in 2019 for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. The town has an application with the Rhode Island Coastal Resource Management Council (CRMC) to reconfigure the dock, widen the pier, and add a fixed timber pier. The application was accepted on September 1 and is awaiting a decision by CRMC.
BIRA has asked to have Harbormaster Kate McConville give its representatives a tour in order to assess how to grant public access to the site without interfering with the town’s current uses of the facility.
Harbors Committee Member Charles Gustafson presented the idea, saying: “We’d be able to open it up to the public as
a public park.” He elaborated on the idea, suggesting the town could provide access to parking, access to water, and access to
Not everyone in the room was gung-ho about the idea.
“I don’t want people just tying up to the dock; that’s where we have our boats,” McConville explained to the Harbors Comittee on September 16. She also mentioned that a new dock was back in the town’s budget, “hopefully in 2022, although nothing’s happened yet.” The harbormaster also relayed the Coast Guard’s desire to “bring their 45 to (that dock) rather than Champlin’s,” once the new dock is built.
McConville went on to say that her department houses fuel, equipment, and tools in the facility. Additionally, some of the summer staff resides there. “We have 11 people that live there,” McConville said. “Who’s going to police it, to keep people out of the boat house, motor pool, and facilities?” she asked.
Member Carl Kaufmann said: “Public access means parking, and the ability to bring a dinghy over, tie up and go fishing. What else is there?” He went on to say he was in favor of opening up areas to public access. “I don’t want to see stuff shut away, but I don’t know exactly how to go about doing this with everything else that’s being developed.”
Member Bill Koch honed in on the traffic issues. “There’s never going to be enough parking,” he said. “There’s a ton of traffic out there. Do we really want to encourage more cars coming down those roads?” Koch also agreed with McConville that opening the buildings to the public was “a bad idea.”
Old Harbor Dockmaster Josh Moore had an idea for how to make it work, however. “The only place would be the backside, the channel side of the boat house, where the old train track boat ramp was” he said. He suggested a dinghy dock could be put there, and portable toilets, with the building still fenced off. “Maybe it’s an area for people who are on their boats in the pond; they could come over with their dinghy.” Moore also mentioned the possibility of clearing the brush to provide more parking and putting in picnic tables and fishing stations.
Koch agreed, calling Moore’s plan the “most plausible.”
The committee closed the discussion and voted to have BIRA look at the area and explore options for public access.