Top 10 news stories of 2019

Fri, 01/03/2020 - 8:45am
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In no particular order, here are The Block Island Times’ choices for the top news stories of 2019. The year was exciting, confusing, and messy.

Ed Roberge resigns

Town Manager Ed Roberge submitted a letter of resignation to the New Shoreham Town Council on Monday, Oct. 21. The resignation will be effective Dec. 20, Roberge told The Block Island Times. Roberge was appointed Town Manager in September 2017 and started in early 2018. He was the former engineer for the city of Concord, New Hampshire.

Easing the housing crunch

1. Lottery to fill five homes at Cherry Hill Lane

The lottery involved the sale of five affordably priced homes in the Cherry Hill Lane development off Cooneymus Road. The lottery was held on Oct. 17 in the Town Hall chamber, when 12 hopeful applicants gathered to learn of their fate. A nervous anticipation filled the room, as the pre-approved applicants settled into a packed chamber. When the winners were announced, there was a dramatic mix of jubilation and disappointment. Bernice Johnson and Joe DeMatteo were chosen for the two two-bedroom houses. Shannon and Louis Marsella, Jessica Wood, and Vivian Donis and Jorge Morales were the first on the list for the three-bedroom homes.

2. Filling the four apartments above Harbor Church

The four one-bedroom affordable rental apartments that were built at the Harbor Church for a price tag of about $450,000 and the tenants moved in at the beginning of the year.

Installation of CAI high-speed internet

The Town Council voted unanimously to approve the hiring of a broadband consultant for creating an RFP to solicit contractors interested in installing the islandwide broadband network. The council also unanimously approved expanding the town’s Community Anchor Institution network to include the Highways Department garage and the Block Island Utility District, both located along the CAI fiber optic route on Ocean Avenue. The $550,000 CAI broadband network, which went live this past spring, connects the public safety building, Town Hall, the Island Free Library, the Block Island School and the Block Island Medical Center to the fiber optics embedded in National Grid’s sea2shore cable.

BIPCo assets purchased

The Utility District purchased the assets, and the name, of the Block Island Power Company in March 2019, transforming the company from a privately held corporation into a not-for-profit utility controlled by ratepayers. It is governed by a board of five elected utility commissioners.

Dr. Clark quits. Liz Dyer fired. Dr. Clark stays.

It was learned on May 23 that Mark Clark, M.D., director of the Block Island Medical Center for the past five years, submitted a letter of resignation effective Nov. 1, 2019. The letter cited professional and personal reasons for his departure.

On Tuesday, May 28, less than a week later, in a move that seemed to shock, confuse, and anger some in the Block Island community, it was learned that Nurse Practitioner Liz Dyer was terminated from her position at the Block Island Medical Center, where she has worked for the past eight years. The termination was confirmed early that morning by Block Island Health Services Board of Directors President Cindy Baute.

Dr. Mark Clark rescinded his letter of resignation and announced that he planned staying on at the Block Island Medical Center “indefinitely.” Clark made the announcement at the annual members meeting of the Block Island Health Services Board of Directors. It came at the end of his director’s report, and was greeted by enthusiastic cheers and applause from many members of the audience.

Lady ‘Canes and

Block Island School athletes

The Lady Hurricanes Volleyball Team consisted of nine players and went 16-1 during the 2019 season. Player recognitions included Division III first team accolades for Savannah Brown, Sophie Mott and Micheala Padien-Brown, Division III second team included Moira O’Neill and Charlotte Hall; and all-tournament Division III players recognized were Savannah Brown and Charlotte Hall. The 2019 team included players Amira Wilson, Alison Pineda, Moira O’Neill, Charlotte Hall, Sophie Mott, Savannah Brown, Lucy Rigby-Leather, Micheala Padien-Brown and Stella Gockenbach. The girls varsity volleyball program was created in 2018 and finished its first year with a 7-9 record while making it to the quarter-finals, for which they received the 2018 sportsmanship award, said Coach Rob Martin.

Car inspections no more:

Citing a seemingly never-ending list of regulations, requirements, equipment needs and loss of revenue, Murphy Auto owner Rob Murphy has said he is no longer doing the two-year safety and emissions testing car inspections on the island. Murphy said he is still doing the one-year inspections for heavy duty trucks, as well as mopeds, tractor trailers and motorcycles, but after 14 years of inspecting cars and losing cash, he said he’s had enough. Murphy Auto is the only state-licensed inspection station on the island.

Our volunteer first responders:

1. Rescue off Jerry’s Point

Chris Greenman, son of island residents Sandy and Peter Greenman, was rescued after he was severely injured in a surfing accident off Jerry’s Point on Friday, Sept. 20. It took almost three hours to get Greenman out of the water and to the Medical Center. Greenman was then treated and underwent surgery on the mainland. Thanks and recognition to the Fire Department, Rescue Squad, Police, and Harbors Department was abundant.

2. 10 minutes, two lives

The fate of one family could be very different today if not for the extraordinary efforts made by members of the Harbors and the Block Island Volunteer Fire and Rescue Departments. In about 10 minutes, not a moment was lost, and two lives were saved. It was Sunday, Aug. 18, and Harbors Assistant Kate McConville received a call from Police dispatch at 13:05. “That all took less than 10 minutes,” said McConville. “To the tie-up to the dock — less than 10 minutes.” McConville received the initial call at 13:05 and the patients were on the ambulance by 13:15.

3. Coast Guard training by bluffs

The Coast Guard helicopter hovered just off the edge of the bluffs, spraying dirt and sea mist into the air. A Guardsman inside the bird held tight onto a line, lifting a basket up off the beach and safely into the copter. Under a sky full of dark, rain-heavy clouds, the helicopter then turned toward the lawn of the Southeast Lighthouse, touched down, and the Guardsman carried off the rescued individual and put him down near the fence, only to be sent back down to the bottom of the bluffs to be rescued all over again. The individual was a dummy, but the members of the Block Island Volunteer Fire and Rescue Squad acted with an intensity and focus as though the rescue was real. There had been some pre-training exercises at the Block Island Airport on Saturday, Nov. 16, in order to get to know the equipment and individuals that would be part of the actual training exercise on Tuesday, Nov. 19. The pre-training exercises at the airport provided a quick briefing on the helicopter, and gave a detailed explanation on how to use the lines and rescue baskets. Bluffs were chosen to provide a more challenging place to train on. Everyone participating was volunteering to do the training and to make the public safer.

4. Fire at The Gothic

On the morning of Friday, Oct. 11, a day with high wind speeds, fire broke out at The Gothic Inn. An alert guest rousted the few other guests, and the Block Island Fire Department arrived in full force, putting out the fire, saving the building and all other surrounding buildings.

Chains move in

Purchase of Surf and Gables, and Boat Basin.

Block Island could once boast that no chain stores operated in the town, but no more. Lark Hotels, a boutique hotel management company, purchased The Surf Hotel and rechristened it The Block Island Beach House. Lark Hotels also purchased the Gable Inn properties, which are part of the new Block Island Beach House development. Lark Hotels purchased the historic properties on Dodge Street and is going through the approval process for renovating the two properties. The Block Island Boat Basin also came under new management in 2019, with the East Providence-based Peregrine Group taking over operations this past summer.

RIAC and airport services

Block Island resident Henry duPont found the situation at the Block Island State Airport to be in such a precarious situation that he wrote the Town Council asking it to consider a resolution that would “compel [Rhode Island Airport Corporation] to restore the funding cuts to the (airport) budget and to re-engage their contracted airport service provider… to continue to provide essential airport services on Block Island.” A fixed based operater was restored, and RIAC has held meetings with town officals to improve operations.

Honorable Mentions 

A Verizon outage that lasted four days had some people getting used to not using their cell phones.

Man who chipped paint off Painted Rock. That alone was not the news story, it was the reaction on social media, which was swift and venomous.

The battle between Rhode Island Fast Ferry and the town continued to ping pong back and forth, and go on and on.

Town employee housing project proved divisive, spawning a couple of lawsuits.

A program to use compostable materials that are regularly thrown away was introduced by island residents Jamie Johnston and Clair Stover Comings, of the Block Island Conservancy.

The Southeast Lighthouse underwent a major and quite beautiful restoration this past year. More to come.