Town crafting ‘flexible harbor plan’

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 9:15am
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“This is Block Island’s plan. It isn’t anybody else’s. It’s what’s unique to us.”

Town Manager Ed Roberge made those remarks regarding the Town of New Shoreham’s Harbor Management Plan at a June 28 meeting, which involved his first forum on the subject with the Harbors Committee. Roberge, who is updating the plan and holding public meetings per instructions from the Town Council, said the plan should be “flexible,” and address a number of issues, such as facility needs, riparian rights and water type.

After the meeting, Roberge told The Block Island Times that, “Flexibility simply suggests that we need to be flexible and balanced in our approach to update the plan. There are a number of competing interests that affect the use of our water resources and our regulatory authority. Defining water type, its use, and recognizing riparian rights and how to apply them here locally for present and future use will be critically important to the plan and our jurisdiction to enforce. Flexibility and balance by all will be needed to succeed.”     

The purpose of updating the plan, according to the town’s statement, is “to promote public health, safety, and welfare by regulating” the harbors. The Town Council will adopt the updated plan on Oct. 17 after harbor ordinances have been revised, and the plan is granted approval from the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council. Roberge is expected to provide an update to the Town Council on July 9.

“Without an up-to-date plan we struggle,” said Roberge during the meeting. “We need the support of that document being in place.” He noted that the town’s plan was last updated in 1999.

Roberge said he studied harbor management plans from other town’s, including Charlestown, and noticed flexibility with what can be done with a plan. “I’ve seen that flexibility — and have spoken to the CRMC about it. The CRMC is excited that we’re tackling this. They’re very open-minded about it.” 

Town Councilor Sven Risom said, “The Committee for The Great Salt Pond spoke extensively with the CRMC about riparian rights.” Risom is president of the Committee. Riparian rights are awarded to land owners whose property is located along a body of water, such as a river, stream or lake.

“If the harbor management plan does not have a section or paragraph talking about riparian rights it will not be well-received,” noted Risom. “If we ignore riparian rights it will be seen as ignoring it.”

“I’ve heard the same thing,” said Erik Elwell, a member of the Harbors Committee. “We have to talk about it; we have to address it.”

“Absolutely,” said Roberge. “We have to address that. That’s where flexibility comes into play.” He said the CRMC’s regulation book, called the Red Book, notes that: “A property owner with riparian rights has the option to have one mooring, and/or up to four. That’s an example of flexibility that’s built into the regulation.”

Roberge said that “a property owner does not lose the riparian right because they are bordering a section of public water. It doesn’t mean that the water they have rights to has to be at that location.” He said it could be located in a different locale, “where it is more appropriate” to the property owner.

Roberge told The Times that, “The CRMC sets conditions for use, and local jurisdictions have enforcement authority through a Harbor Management Plan. The concerns expressed with respect to riparian rights are generally the sheer number of on-water facilities that could potentially result. This matter will be discussed in detail, and at length, to see how riparian rights affect the current on-water facilities on Block Island.”

During the meeting, Roberge said he intends “to take a critical look at water type,” noting that the town doesn’t “use type-one waters in some sections of the Great Salt Pond as type-one waters. So I believe we have the flexibility; that the DEM or CRMC are not dictating what that water type is. We can participate in that, because it’s our harbor management plan. We want to be mindful, responsible and respectful of those agencies, but at the same time, we have some flexibility” in how we use those type-one waters.

“That’s a really critical issue,” said aquaculturist Chris Warfel, who operates an oyster farm business on the pond. “I’m surprised that we would have influence in that.”  

“Our baseline is the 1999 plan — I think a lot of things have changed since then,” said Roberge. “I don’t think we can go reclassify a type-one water to a type-three or four. That’s not going to happen.”

“Restoration is going to be critical to water class,” said Warfel, who asked Roberge which would be addressed first: restoration efforts, or classifying water type.

“I personally would say you define water type, and then define the needs to support that water type,” said Roberge. “So I would say classification, and then restoration.”

Roberge explained priority goals and objectives for the plan include: (A) maintaining a program which protects the resources of the Great Salt Pond and Old Harbor while supporting productive uses by both marine- and land-side interests; (B) insuring that the plan is financially sound; (C) having involvement in growth and development activities to insure they meet the criteria of local, state, and federal authorities; (D) maintain the highest water quality possible; (E) supporting the Shellfish Commission and other private or public organizations in their efforts to develop aquaculture projects; (F) promote marine safety; (G) and improve public access and facilities.

For comments regarding the Harbor Management Plan contact the town at harborplanupdate@new-shoreham.com. Meeting dates, updates, and other information can be found at: new-shoreham.com.