Roberge and Boudreau go to Providence

Thu, 02/21/2019 - 5:15pm
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Second Warden André Boudreau has made the idea of re-establishing ties with state government officials something of a theme during his tenure on the Town Council because, on occasion, a local issue may require mainland support. Issues such as banning the presence of ride sharing services Lyft and Uber on the island, or restricting the use of glyphosates — the hotly debated chemical used in some popular herbicides — cannot be accomplished locally. The ride sharing issue must be supported by state legislation, which has yet to pass in both houses of the General Assembly, and restricting the use of glyphosates is controlled by the state Department of Environmental Management.

Given those, and other issues, Boudreau and Town Manager Ed Roberge took a day to go to the mainland to meet with a number of state officials, including Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, State Sen. Susan Sosnowski and state Rep. Blake Filippi, who is also the Minority Leader in the House. The two also met with Ken Ayers, Chief of the Division of Agriculture at the R.I. Department of Environmental Management.

These were scheduled appointments, but the two said they also bumped into Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea in the hallways and took advantage of that chance encounter.

“It has been a very long time since our delegation met with our maainland counterparts,” said Boudreau.

“This was our way of reforging our presence at the State House,” said Roberge. “There was a good reaction to our reaching out and to put names to the faces.”

During their visit with Mattiello, Boudreau said he was “very receptive to our resolution” banning ride-sharing companies on the island, while also mentioning that Filippi “had been working very hard on this.” Boudreau said to Mattiello that the town was “granted an exemption in 1930 and it was very important to us.” The island has had jurisdiction over its own taxi services since 1929. The legislation that would ban Uber and Lyft on Block Island has stalled in the House for the past two years.Roberge said he has not yet had any evidence that either service has had a presence on the island.

There was also a discussion about adjusting the formula used to calculate the income for who may be eligible for affordable housing.

The town, spearheaded by members of the Housing Board, has long contended that the income standard for those who are eligible for affordable housing should be adjusted upward from how it is calculated on the mainland, given that the median income on Block Island is, at $70,000 a year, much higher than it is on the mainland. The average home value is just under a million dollars, said Roberge.

The two said that Mattiello and Filippi were up to speed on this issue and “they understand the constraints that we face,” said Boudreau. The town already exceeds the state-mandated percentage of affordable housing units — which is 10 percent of its housing inventory — “but we need 25 percent. Our need is greater. We need more than the minimum,” said Roberge.

The conversation with Ruggerio, the Senate President, included such topics as the wind farm, and how that project benefits the entire state. (The wind farm produces more energy than is used to power the island, with the excess going to the mainland grid.)

The conversation with Sosnowski and Ayers of the DEM focused on glyphosates, the herbicide, which the Town Council had discussed banning — at the prompting of several residents — until the town was contacted by the DEM, which notified the town that only the DEM could ban the use of that type of chemical. It was not a local issue.

But Boudreau said that Ayers “will be happy to come out to Block Island” to help educate the public about its use, given that, as Roberge said, there was no hard science to back up the claim that the use of glyphosates on the island has had a negative impact.

“We will now move forward with an education program,” said Roberge.

“DEM can’t single out one community,” said Roberge.

All in all, Boudreau and Roberge said they felt the state leaders they met with not directly linked with the island were informed on the issues the community faces, and that the visit was a productive first step in re-establishing ties with the mainland government.

“I think just participating is an important factor in what we do,” said Roberge. “If we’re going to ask for something, we need to be present.”