The Wrack Line

Bits and pieces of island news
Thu, 07/22/2021 - 3:15pm

This week on the moped front:

Per the July 19, 2021 New Shoreham Police Department press release, on Sunday the department confiscated 21 rental mopeds because the drivers were driving erratically, including standing up while driving, driving more than two abreast, driving on the sidewalk, and not wearing helmets. The police contacted the moped owners, who came and picked up the mopeds.
“Block Island is a beautiful place, and we want visitors and residents to enjoy its natural beauty and fun atmosphere safely. Unsafe and aggressive driving will not be tolerated in New Shoreham, and we hope that our response to these incidents will make visitors think twice before bringing bad behavior with them on
vacation,” Police Chief Matthew Moynihan said.
Moynihan is working to change the ‘anything goes’ atmosphere on Block Island with increased presence and enforcement during his first year on the job.

Town council confronts RIAC proposals:
On Monday the Town Council voted by unanimous decision to have Town Manager Maryanne Crawford write a letter to the Rhode Island Airport Corporation outlining the town’s position on the proposals submitted by Cushman and Wakefield on behalf of RIAC. In the proposal, Cushman and Wakefield have offered 4 pieces of the airport property for lease to commercial interests ranging from airplane hangars to outdoor storage and office space.
The offerings have been widely condemned by the people on Block Island, with Town Councilor Keith Stover stating again on Monday, July 19: “There is virtual unanimity in the community.” Several concerned citizens were on hand for the meeting and the council has received at least 17 letters from island residents and conservation groups. Some of the proposed areas for development are home to the endangered American burying beetle, and endangered plant, the northern blazing star.

The council also directed Crawford to draft a short resolution for it to adopt that will reflect the letter being sent to RIAC.

Covid-19 update:

Director of the Block Island Medical Center Dr. Tom Warcup spoke to the New Shoreham Town Council on Monday and reported that there has been a “significant” uptick in covid cases on the island. The case numbers “are similar to what we had in March,” Dr. Warcup said. “It is on our island.”

He explained there were four positive cases last week, with one of the patients having been “fully vaccinated.” Warcup explained that a person is considered fully vaccinated once 14 days have passed since their final dose of one of the approved vaccines.
Warcup said he had reached out to the Block Island Chamber of Commerce, which in turn was working to contact member businesses to make sure the businesses were aware of the vaccination and testing programs available on the island for their employees. Second Warden Sven Risom pointed out that many businesses house their employees in “congregate living” situations, with many people living in very close quarters. Dr. Warcup reported that he had not heard any feedback yet from the Chamber of Commerce.
At this time there is no island-wide employee vaccine requirement.

Deer Task Force faces decisions:
Terry Delaney of the Deer Task Force summed up the situation perfectly when he said: “There’s a lot of agreement that we have a deer herd issue here on Block Island, but virtually no agreement on what to do about it.”

Delaney was referring to the seemingly large deer population on Block Island, although no one knows for sure how many deer there actually are. Delaney informed the DTF at its July 15 meeting that the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management says a healthy deer herd consists of ten deer per square mile, which would be about 100 deer for Block Island. He told the group, “we don’t know how many we have.”
Police Chief Matt Moynihan said the group could spend time arguing over the exact number of deer, but based on the DEM number of 10 per square mile, “We can all come to the conclusion that we have too many.”
Moynihan went on to explain that in the past 12 months, the New Shoreham Police Department received 31 calls related to deer, with the majority referring to dead deer in the roadway.

“Thirteen confirmed motor vehicle crashes involving a deer,” the chief said, although he pointed out that many of the others could have been struck by a car and not reported. Having only been on the island a few months, Moynihan pledged that his department would do a “better job with our data from a police standpoint.”
Chair Susan Hagedorn described the situation as a health issue, with tick-borne disease being a major problem. She reported that per her conversation with the Block Island Medical Center, 100 visits related to tick-borne disease had been chronicled in the past year, with over 50 cases in this past June alone.

Town Councilor Keith Stover encouraged the DTF to prepare a report for the Town Council, with ideas for the town to consider and to approach DEM with.
“There’s consensus on the town council that we have a problem and consensus that we need to do something about it, but not a lot on what the elements of an action plan would be,” Stover told the DTF.
Delaney said he has been preparing a report that the DTF can look over and discuss at its next meeting, with Hagedorn suggesting the DTF try to get on the Town Council’s agenda in September. Deer-hunting season in Rhode Island begins with archery for youth only, September 12.

Raising the bar on affordable housing:
The Block Island Housing Board is giving consideration to approaching the Rhode Island State Legislature again in a bid to increase the pool of eligible households who qualify for affordable housing. Currently, the income limit to qualify for affordable housing is set at 120 percent of the median income for the community. On Block Island, that number is $109,450 for a family of four.
The Housing Board’s position is that the income limit should be raised to 140 percent of the median income, making people who earn more money eligible for the affordable housing projects on Block Island.

On July 13, Board Member Rosemary Tobin explained that the cost of the affordable housing units the board builds “is higher than what the income bracket can afford.”
The most recent affordable housing project on Block Island, the Cherry Hill subdivision, consisted of five homes priced affordably at $250,000. As this may be more than people in the low to moderate income bracket can afford, the Housing Board seeks to raise the bar so that people who can afford the affordable houses are eligible for them.
The Housing Board has been before the legislature on this issue before, in 2019 for House Bill 5451, introduced by State Representative Blake Filippi.

“Upstate it was interpreted as elitism,” Chair Cindy Pappas said, referring to this previous failed attempt to raise the income cap.
“I don’t think it is elitism to point out that it costs more than twice as much to build a house on Block Island as it does in Warwick,” Member John Spier said. He suggested emphasizing to the legislature that the housing board cannot build the houses cheap enough for people to afford them.
Tobin pointed out the increased costs of building on Block Island versus the mainland, such as lack of water and sewer access necessitating a new well and septic system.
The board agreed to approach the island’s state legislators to gauge the chances of success for their proposal.

Sewer system flush with wipes:
While many products advertise themselves as being “flushable,” this is not exactly true. At the meeting of the Sewer and Water Commission on Monday, Sewer Superintendent Dylan Chase informed the commission of an ongoing problem with wet wipes flushed at the Salt Pond Settlement clogging the pumping system and causing the pump to fail. Chase recommended installing a screen in the system that could be easily cleaned, preventing the wet wipes from making it down into the pump.
Chair Pete McNerney said it was “reasonable” to ask for a receptacle to be placed in the bathrooms for the proper disposal of wet wipes, which would keep them out of the system entirely.

Chase advocated for an outreach program to the public, similar to what has been done in the past, with advertisements, stickers, and magnets.

“It’s damaging the pumps; we are pumping it out every other day,” Chase said.

Legal counsel David Petrarca informed the commission that they have the ability to enforce a special assessment on establishments that continue to clog the system with wet wipes, while an outright ban on wet wipes would have to go through the New Shoreham Town Council.