Interim town manager steps right in

Thu, 12/26/2019 - 6:45pm

The Town Council meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 18 was a marathon, lasting about four hours, with debates and votes on a wide variety of topics. Topics of discussion and some action included language impacting moped licenses, the creation of mobile food establishments, updates on the Harbor Management Plan, the current state of the Visitor Center, a town manager work summary, and updates on developments from the town’s Broadband Committee.

Roberge’s last meeting

This was Town Manager Ed Roberge’s final meeting for the Town of New Shoreham. The councilors had positive comments and affirmations to share regarding Roberge’s tenure.

“We want to officially thank him for the good service he provided for the town and all the things he accomplished,” said First Warden Ken Lacoste.

“We are going to miss you. These two years have been short... but you have helped us accomplish a lot during that time,” said Second Warden André Boudreau.

Interim Manager start date

First Warden Ken Lacoste announced that the former Town Manager of Dedham, Mass., James Kern, would start his interim position on Monday Dec. 23. Kern was in his office on that Monday.

Moped renewals

There was no action taken on moped ordinances. Lacoste said the conversation would be “continued for another night.”

The new moped language was recommended by Roberge, with input from the moped rental company owners.

The language in the proposed amended ordinance states that “[t]he use of public property by this license (holder) is expressly prohibited. The following activities shall not take place on public property including town-owned parcels, public rights-of-ways, sidewalks, parks, beaches, or boardwalks... displaying motorized bicycles, tricycles and/or scooters for rent, training and instruction including explanation of State and local laws and regulations on use of the motorized bicycles, tricycles and/or scooters for rent, and washing, cleaning and maintenance of said vehicles.”

With no representatives present for the moped discussion, the council agreed on inviting owners to meetings to discuss renewal of their licenses.

Councilor Sven Risom recommended holding a follow-up meeting with moped representatives present in order “to ask questions and to improve operations.” The conversation on the moped renewals, rentals and license language was continued.

Mobile Food Establishments

The first to start off the discussion on Mobile Food Trucks was island resident Kelly Walsh, who submitted to the council an application for a Mobile Food Establishment. In a statement from Walsh, she noted she was “prepared to get [her] business up and running.” She asked the Town Council to “include a permit for [her] as a former ‘wait-lister’ who is ready to create her business.” Her goal is to be operational for the 2020 season. The town currently has three food truck licenses, but recent changes in state law have required the town to be in compliance with what statutes are now calling “mobile food establishments.”

In her supporting documents, Walsh quoted Gov. Gina Raimondo in her “R.I. Food Strategy in 2017”: “Rhode Island seeks to be a state where food businesses thrive and where they are recognized for the important roles they play in creating jobs and making R.I. an attractive place to live and visit.”

Walsh’s proposed location is at the 1661 Farm, and would operate in connection with the Draper family. Walsh said that produce sold at her establishment will be sourced from the farm.

First Warden Ken Lacoste asked for this conversation to be “tabled for the night and will wait for the advisory commission.” Walsh’s application was asked to be continued to the interim meeting in January 2020.

The council took action on license renewals for Mobile Food Trucks on Block Island for 2020, with the three current food trucks on island approved: André Boudreau for Southeast Light Delights, Cindy Kelly for Pots & Kettles, and Carole Payne for Payne’s Killer Donuts.

Other actions for the Mobile Food Trucks and permits were also continued for the next meeting.

Updates on Harbor Management Plan

The Harbor Management Plan was revisited at the Dec. 18 meeting.

The plan was reviewed, with an “update from our last discussion,” including comments from the Coastal Resources Management Council and from previous council discussions, said Roberge, who went through the document discussing the recent edits. Ordinances included definitions, position titles, regulations, and dock use and access.

One section of the document that had comments from the CRMC was about the regulation allowing just one outhaul per waterfront property, Roberge said.

“CRMC suggests we can have up to two outhauls,” said Roberge. “I did clarify with CRMC that our opinion, or our position, was that one outhaul be allowed or permitted.” The ordinance was revised to allow just one outhaul.

Another discussion focused on how many days charter vessels and commercial vessels could operate.

“I already brought this up because we had an active conversation about that. What is the right number?” Roberge asked.

Councilor Chris Willi said “for consistency in number of days, I would go with 50” for charter and commercial vessels.

According to the Harbor Management Plan, charter vessels are used for carrying passengers for hire on at least 30 days between Memorial Day to Columbus Day, and applicants engaged in commercial fishing would operate for at least 50 days a year. Willi made a motion to modify the language on charter vessels to read “applicants for renewal must demonstrate they have been and will be engaged in carrying passengers for hire on at least 50 days of the previous year.”

Harbormaster Steve Land responded to Roberge’s question on the consistency for charter and commercial use.

“I would imagine that, the charter and commercial guys, who actually work that, would need to be part of this discussion. This is something to be brought up. As of the last 20 years it’s been 30 and 50. For Chris, who runs a charter business, to up it seems a little strange... is that an ethics violation maybe? A charter captain who is upping requirements, I think it’s a strange conversation. I see a red flag here. Maybe I’m the only one.”

The conversation switched to who would be eligible for charter and commercial slips, and the requirements for residency.

“A taxpayer can actually qualify for a charter or commercial slip,” said Willi. He said that a year-round residency should be required to own a mooring. “I do agree with it for the mooring part. It’s a license to do business and you should have to be a year-round resident to qualify,” said Willi.

“Isn’t nine months the residency requirement?” asked Councilor Martha Ball.

“You should have consistency on residency particularly when it comes to licenses,” said Willi.

“It seems we are making more out of this than it is. The nine months is a practical acknowledgement,” said Ball.

“There has always been an inconsistency with the residency requirements when it comes to harbors, both in Old Harbor and New Harbor. I believe Mr. Willi brought this up a couple years ago when Charlie Gustafson was getting his slip and it wound up as an ethics violation for Mr. Willi,” said Land, adding that Willi’s opinions “can be seen through the exact same thing again in changing the requirements for one specific part of the Harbor Management Plan.”

“It actually isn’t specific to that, and there’s an ethics advisory, which you should look up,” said Willi.

“I think I did,” said Steve Land.

“You should look it up immediately,” said Willi. “I can talk about the Harbor Management Plan and ordinances in this format. That’s what the advisory says.”

Roberge chimed in, saying, “The question is: is our residency requirement legal, is it constitutional, and the answer to that is maybe. And it’s maybe because we apply residency as a suggestion differently across the entire board.”

Roberge added that “If you’re concerned that you don’t want it to refer to two types of residency standards, then eliminate one of them.” Roberge’s comment referred back to Willi’s comment on who is eligible for commercial fishing slips and a mooring.

“You have the opportunity to make a change” to the residency requirements, said Roberge, “and then post it for a public hearing.”

“I think we should have a discussion for the next meeting, and come up with a public hearing” said Councilor Sven Risom.

Council members then went on to discuss CRMC outhaul regulations and riparian rights. The council is going to take one more look at the Harbor Management Plan, approving the language before it is advertised for a public hearing.

Visitor’s Center

Three previous discussions in regards to the Visitor’s Center were held in May, July and November 2019. The report presented at the Dec. 18 meeting outlined the current state of the Visitor’s Center, including topics focused on space needs, goal settings, and financing a visitor center.

The current state of the Visitor’s Center, pulled from the Visitor Center’s December 2019 Report, states as follows: “The Block Island Visitor Center is a Town-owned facility that serves as an information hub and gateway to the island. The building combines restroom facilities, lockers and a visitor center used nearly year-round. The Town’s building facility sits on a land lease agreement with Interstate Nav. Co., with a term through September 30, 2022. While the building facilities are generally ADA compliant with access to the restrooms, lockers and visitor center counter space, the building facilities do not meet the modern needs of the travelers who utilize the facility today.”

The Visitor’s Center serves various needs and opportunities for the island community, “operat[ing] as a resource for local businesses to learn to grow and expand market share.”

“Investing in tourism is key to our economic base,” said Roberge.

According to literature presented by Chamber Executive Director Cindy Lasser, “Over 100,000 people visit the Block Island Visitor Center every year. Whether visitors stay for a day or decide to stay for a week and return has tremendous economic impact on the Block Island tax base... For tens of thousands of travelers their first stop in town is the Block Island Visitor Center. This front door, gateway facility is undersized, dated, and represents a less than ideal first impression of the community. As effective as the Visitor Center staff is, the facilities are outdated and difficult to maintain, and often times create an uninspiring image of Block Island.”

“Something has to change,” said Willi. “Formulate a plan and move forward with it.”

Chamber Executive Director Cindy Lasser said that with “100,000 people visit the island per year, we need more consideration from the town to run this thing. It all starts with us.”

The Visitor’s Center was constructed in 1999, and is in need of significant updates and changes for visitors.

Roberge recommended funding in the budget for next year, and the Council will have to decide what they want that figure to be.

Councilor Sven Risom handed out a draft proposal for 2021 at the end of the of the discussion, with recommendations to help improve the facilities of the Visitor Center.

Broadband Committee actions

The council received and acted on recommendations from the Broadband Committee, approving the authorization of the town to enter into final design and contract discussions for an island-wide broadband network, as well as approving the authorization for the town to engage Mission Broadband to assist final design, costing, and contract discussions.

Facilities Manager Sam Bird updated the council on the Broadband Committee activities. The Committee approved spending $125,000 to begin contract negotiations with Sertex, a Connecticut-based company that will design and install the island-wide high-speed broadband network. The Broadband Committee also approved $20,000 for continued consulting work by Mission Broadband, which has been assisting the town throughout the project. 

These two items were approved, with Roberge calling them a “really good step forward for the community.”

Bird said the next steps would be to discuss the design plan and installation “within the next four to six weeks. We have to move very quickly.” The Broadband Committee hopes to have the final cost to send to voters at the next Financial Town Meeting in May, and for installation to begin as soon as possible after that.