Town Council taking action to protect dunes

Drafting ordinance to support enforcement
Fri, 07/27/2018 - 9:45am
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The New Shoreham Town Council is taking action to protect Block Island’s sand dunes. 

Despite signage and other modes of communication, people are still walking over the dunes, which has prompted the Town Council to take several measures, including the drafting an ordinance, the posting of portable signage, and a rope along a section of Corn Neck Road in order to protect the island’s vulnerable coastal features.

At its July 18 meeting, the Town Council voted unanimously (5-0) to draft an ordinance to enforce protection of the dunes on town property, and comes with a general penalty fine of $200. Councilor Sven Risom made the motion that was seconded by Councilor Chris Willi. The Town Council’s action was based on Councilor Risom noting at a June meeting that he witnessed bicycles parked in the dunes on Corn Neck Road.

Town Manager Ed Roberge presented two potential ordinances to the Council. The draft language in the ordinance the Council chose states that “no person shall enter upon or cross over any dune on town property, whether by walking or in a vehicle, including bicycles, except at an authorized marked crossover or designated beach access.” The ordinance also notes that “no person shall destroy” or alter the dunes, or its plantings, in any manner. Some minor language in the proposed ordinances differentiated the two options.

The town has three wooden walkways installed on Corn Neck Road for pedestrian traffic. 

During deliberations, the Council discussed exploring the addition of a fourth walkway, removing a beach access path, and on Councilor Martha Ball’s urging, installing a rope line on posts from the cut on Corn Neck Road to Beach Avenue to prevent encroachment. The Council raised each of those motions, and unanimously passed them. The rope line has been installed on Corn Neck Road. The town also deployed 10 portable “keep off the dunes” signs supplied by the R.I. Department of Environmental Management near the North Lighthouse and on Corn Neck Road.

First Warden Ken Lacoste said despite having bike racks and some signage in place the town was “still having some encroachment” on the dunes along Corn Neck Road. “So with the urging of Sven, who cares very much about this particular subject, we put it on the agenda with the consideration of drafting a dune protection ordinance.”

“It’s my personal goal to protect the dunes,” said Risom, who also sits on the Planning Board and is President of the Committee for the Great Salt Pond. Risom noted that education is a key component to protecting the dunes. “A combination of education, signage and ordinances are needed as prevention. It should be understood that it’s a revetment.”

“We, the town, need to protect our property,” added Risom. “This is about protecting the island’s natural areas.”

Ball, who pressed for installing a rope line, remarked that, “You shouldn’t need an ordinance to tell people to be kind to the earth.”

Councilor Chris Willi agreed with Ball about the rope line, and said, “People bypass the walkways” and go over the dunes to get to Crescent Beach. 

“An ordinance is symbolic, but it alone isn’t going to solve the problem,” noted Willi. “I think the town needs to do a better job with education for its visitors.” He noted that it’s not just visitors who “walk over the dunes. Some of our residents do it, too.”

Second Warden André Boudreau asked, “How do we keep people off of the dunes? What do the police do? Do the police go to the beach and try and find the person in question?”

Risom said education was needed, and that an ordinance would simply give the police “something to act on.”

“I don’t think it’s enforceable,” said Boudreau, noting that it will be a tough task for the police to enforce it. “How do you find anybody?”

Lacoste said, “If the police happen to observe somebody walking up into the dunes they can have the power to say, ‘There is an ordinance that I will enforce.’ So the belligerent behavior, that we view as belligerent, and damaging to our dunes, will therefore have some protection in the ordinances that can be used to further educate people in a more serious manner.”

Agenda items

In other news, the Town Council debated the proper rules and procedures for getting items on its agenda. 

Ball, Willi and Boudreau all had complaints, noting an inability to get items on the Council’s agenda. 

“If a Town Council member has something that they want to go on the agenda then it should go on the agenda,” said Boudreau.  

Resident Bill McCombe, who was in attendance, agreed with Boudreau, and said, “A Town Councilor’s request to have an item placed on an agenda should not be vetoed.”

Lacoste and Roberge, who draft the agenda, said they felt that some items are not ready to be placed on the agenda. 

The Town Council will discuss the subject at its next meeting, which is August 1 at 7 p.m.