State reps get input from Town Councilors

Fri, 03/23/2018 - 9:15am

The New Shoreham Town Council and State Sen. Susan Sosnowski and State Rep. Blake Filippi spent an hour and a half deliberating legislative priorities, with both sides stressing the need for greater communication, while touching on a host of issues that might require urgency. 

Sosnowski, a Democrat, and Filippi, a Republican, visited with the Town Council on Monday, March 19, as part of an informational exchange session. The following topics were discussed:

National Grid issues

First Warden Ken Lacoste said a “big concern” for the town was the Public Utilities Commission’s denial of BIPCo’s request to have National Grid’s $1.8 million interconnection cost socialized among all Rhode Island ratepayers. The interconnection links BIPCo to National Grid’s substation, which receives electricity from the Block Island Wind Farm. National Grid had originally estimated the cost to be $500,000 for the interconnection.

Barbara MacMullan, Chair of the Board of Utility Commissioners, along with BIPCo President Jeffery Wright, explained that the PUC ordered a cost investigation in November, and that BIPCo was seeking revisions of its enabling legislation to include language supporting socialization of the interconnection costs.

Filippi said revisions of the enabling legislation would be heard in the General Assembly on March 27. (He added that the town’s anti-Uber legislation would be heard on that same date.) Filippi suggested that if BIPCo’s legislation fails, the power company could file an appeal of the PUC’s decision with the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

“We’re ready to do that,” said Wright.

Sosnowski said town participation in the legislative process is vital. Wright said that he, MacMullan and Lacoste are testifying at the General Assembly on Tuesday.

MacMullan said BIPCo would draft an informational sheet explaining the nominal cost of socializing the cost of the interconnection to Rhode Island ratepayers.

Councilor Chris Willi said National Grid should be held accountable for the $1.3 million estimating error. 

(The Council voted unanimously (5-0) at its March 21 meeting to send a letter of support for BIPCo to its state representatives.)

Protecting state fisheries

Councilor Willi brought up two topics: allowing out-of-state fishermen to fish Rhode Island waters at a nominal cost, and the “importance of tourism” on the Island. Willi runs a charter fishing business on the Island, and his wife, Jessica, is the Executive Director of the Block Island Tourism Council.

Willi said fishing fees in Rhode Island are far less than in neighboring states. He said an annual resident fishing charter license in Rhode Island costs $25 compared to $315 in Connecticut, and $250 in New York. Fishermen from other states “fish our waters constantly,” as Block Island “has become the epicenter for striped bass fishing. A discussion needs to happen to protect Rhode Island fishermen.”

“Are you trying to create more revenue for the state?” asked Councilor Sven Risom.

“Yes,” said Willi, “and protect the resource for Rhode Island. Revenue is a byproduct of that.”

“This is an important issue,” said Sosnowski, who noted that she is a commissioner on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, an Interstate Compact ratified by the states and approved by the U.S. Congress in 1942. “DEM has stepped up their enforcement because of some poaching going on.” She asked Willi to send her specific information about the issue.

Corn Neck Road flooding

Councilor Martha Ball said a problem that will “keep happening” and needs attention is flooding at the Fred Benson Beach Pavilion parking lot. Ball said after the recent storms “a big puddle formed in front of the beach house” for about three weeks. “I’ve never seen that much water in that lot for that long.”

“It was well over a foot deep,” said Risom, who also serves as Vice Chair of the Planning Board and spearheaded a recent study regarding potential remedies for the impact of sea level rise on Corn Neck Road.

Ball said one issue is that the town has always accepted as fact that the state has no funding available. “We don’t get a lot of revenue from the state,” she said.

“It’s not like there isn’t any money,” said Filippi, who noted that the Department of Environmental Management has slashed staff in a cost saving effort. DEM provided the town with a $240,000 Recreational Grant for renovations of the beach house.

Sosnowski said she would “need a proposal” from the Town Council to “go forward, and see what we can do. I think a proposal would be good.”

Food trucks

Filippi told the Town Council that there should be concern about language in proposed legislation that might require a state license for food trucks operating within the state. “I would draft a resolution as soon as possible” to exempt Block Island from this legislation, he said.

(The Council voted unanimously (4-0) on March 21, with Second Warden André Boudreau recused, to send a statement to its representatives seeking exemption.)

Boudreau, who operates a food truck at the Southeast Lighthouse, was concerned that the legislation would open the door for mainland food trucks to work special events on the Island. 

The proposed state legislation dictates that a food truck operator would need to acquire a town permit to operate at an event.