Prohibiting seasonal dock storage discussed

For incorporation into Harbor Management Plan
Thu, 10/24/2019 - 4:15pm
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The topic of dock storage during the winter months at Rat Island turned from a seemingly innocuous item on the Town Council’s agenda into a lengthy discussion regarding the topic, at a recent council meeting.

Town Manager Ed Roberge said the matter was initially brought to him by aquaculture farmer Chris Warfel in March of 2018, later discussed by the Town Council, and then deliberated this year during public sessions pertaining to amendments of the town’s Harbor Management Plan. He told The Times after the meeting that the council would be discussing a prohibition of the practice in the coming weeks, hold a public hearing, and potentially adopt an amended ordinance by early 2020.

During the meeting, Roberge said a prohibition of seasonal dock storage in this manner could be written into the town’s ordinances and incorporated into a newly updated Harbor Management Plan, which would include “all locations” on Block Island, both in New Harbor and Old Harbor. He also said the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council classified the Rat Island area as Type 1 waters that are environmentally sensitive and not amenable to dock storage.

After Roberge gave his summary, and Second Warden André Boudreau asked some protocol questions, Councilor Chris Willi stated his case against the prohibition, and a discussion ensued.

“I didn’t agree with it then,” said Willi, referring to when the council first discussed the matter, “and I am not going to agree with it, necessarily, now. I would feel differently if there were an actual issue.” He then cited some examples of reasons for prohibiting the use, including if docks on Rat Island broke free and caused damage on the pond.

“I’ve been on the harbor a long time,” he said, “and I don’t remember there ever being a critical issue” where the docks came loose and damaged some pilings, for instance. “If so, that to me would be a problem. That would need to be addressed. The same thing with Cormorant Cove, if those docks kept floating around, and banged into things. That’s just my position.”

“What’s actually out there now?” asked Councilor Martha Ball, regarding Rat Island.

Willi asked Cliff Payne, who owns Payne’s Dock in New Harbor and was in attendance, how many feet of dock he had relocated to Rat Island for the winter season.

Payne said about 200 feet of dock have been relocated to Rat Island. “I don’t have enough land to stack” the sections of dock. “They are un-stackable.” He noted that some of the docks “are 20-foot sections; and some aren’t.”

Cliff’s son, Sands Payne, said he heard that somebody called the docks stored at Rat Island an “eyesore out in the harbor. I don’t know if docks stored on the land would look any better. Never mind the smell,” he said.

“What are we going to do with that smelly seafood?” said Cliff Payne.

Councilor Sven Risom then asked if the prohibition on seasonal dock storage could be a piecemeal, multi-year process, with a sunset clause that wouldn’t burden dock owners, both logistically and financially. He also said he would like to have more discussion, and review scientific data regarding the docks’ environmental impact.

Resident David Lewis echoed Risom’s sentiments, noting that the CRMC categorized the waters as Type 1 waters. Lewis said it would be “quite reasonable” if the Harbor Management Plan denotes policy that the seasonal storage of docks would be prohibited from Type 1 waters.

Lewis said that if those areas were classified as “environmentally sensitive, then the docks would disappear over time.” He said the ordinance could be written as a multi-year program that is phased in with a sunset clause.

“I would advocate for some type of sunset clause,” said Willi.

Roberge told The Times that the ordinance could include a provision noting that the prohibition would be phased in over a two- to three-year period, and contain a sunset clause. Roberge said the topic would be discussed at future council meetings, as the Harbor Management Plan is developed.