The Block Island Land Trust invited Block Island’s new Police Chief John Lynch to its latest meeting to talk about security at the Ocean View Foundation Pavilion and the beach below for the upcoming summer.
The Land Trust has found it necessary to have a security guard at the beach for the last two years because of drinking, particularly among under-age visitors who bring alcohol in in backpacks and coolers. Consumption of alcohol on beaches and in other public places on Block Island is prohibited.
BILT Chair Barbara MacMullan told the chief: “The first question is, should we have a security guard? I hate doing that.”
“It’s part and parcel of having a beach tract,” said The Nature Conservancy’s Scott Comings, who often sees similar problems on the mainland.
Compounding the problem of alcohol on the beach is people bringing drinks over from Ballard’s Beach Resort.
“I will be working on that,” said Lynch, speaking of alcohol “exiting Ballard’s.” One thing he can’t do though is violate people’s constitutional rights. “We don’t have the ability to search backpacks,” he said.
“But we do,” said MacMullan. She added that she had talked with former Police Chief Matt Moynihan about the security guard and the two decided that having a guard on duty for the mornings only should be sufficient.
Another challenge is that there are “two ways to get on that beach,” said MacMullan. Besides the path from the Ocean View property, people can climb down from Spring Street near the Spring House. “It’s a nice beach,” said MacMullan. “We want people to enjoy it.”
Land Trust member Corrie Heinz said: “I think we should keep the security the same and maybe have more.” She noted that there had been, a few years ago, an outreach to the mainland to discourage people coming to the island to just party. “If we do that, it might stop,” she said.
MacMullan suggested having the guard every Saturday, Sunday, July fourth, and Monday holidays during the summer from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“I would like to have a second person on the fourth of July and VJ Day,” said Heinz.
Trustee Harold “Turtle” Hatfield said: “With new rules for Ballard’s, things will be very different [this year].”
Ballard’s has been prohibited from holding music festivals such as the Reggae Fest held last Victory Day, that led to a variety of problems on the island and on the ferries later that evening.
“Lots of trash on our beach comes from Ballard’s,” said MacMullan.
“My understanding is they can’t have those tall drinks,” said Lynch.
Whether security guards will make a real difference is yet to be seen. “There’s not enough security guards in the world to keep people from drinking on the beach on Block Island,” said MacMullan. “I’ll second Corrie’s amendment to have two people on the fourth of July and VJ day.”
Heinz would have a second amendment to the original motion – she asked that the guards be on duty until 3 p.m. “on those two weekends.”
“From observation, they often had the community service officers there when the boat came in,” said Kim Gaffett, representing both the Ocean View Foundation and The Nature Conservancy.
Lynch said his department would continue that practice of meeting people at the entrance to the property when the boats come in.
Then they addressed the night watchman for the pavilion. Gaffett said having a watchman started 16 or 17 years ago and that it was “someone up there telling people the property was not open after dark.”
The watchman was on guard four to five nights a week. Then two years ago, town CSOs were utilized “as a second job,” said Gaffett. “Last year’s CSOs were on the younger side, and the police allowed them to have a police radio.”
“Last year we did not have enough coverage,” said MacMullan. “There was lots of vandalism.”
“I would like to have 50 nights of coverage,” said Gaffett.
“If the CSOs can’t accommodate,” said MacMullan, “we need to come up with a different plan.” She told Lynch that last year they had offered to fund one CSO “with the expectation that they would be up there.”
“Most of the problems happen between four and nine,” said Gaffett and most of the people hanging out there were in the 14- to 21-years-old range. “That will be the ask, and we’ll split the money.”
“This sounds so bleak,” said MacMullan.
There’s also family use, Gaffett assured her. She said it was especially popular for people viewing the fireworks, and “we let people do that. It’s not a police state.”