BIRM awarded 2-year contract
The Town Council meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 20 covered everything from contract renewals to waterfowl hunting.
Contracts and bidding
The Council had two choices regarding bidding for the Transfer Station management contract. The members could vote to either authorize putting the contract out to bid for September, so that Town Solicitor Kathy Merolla could begin work on the language, or they could exercise the renewal option with the current management company, Block Island Resource Management (BIRM).
After some deliberation, the council passed a motion to exercise the latter, and to again award the management contract to BIRM, which has held the current contract for the past two years.
Councilor Chris Warfel suggested that the contract be put out to bid, as the Council had discussed considering a wider range of vendors in the past. He said that bidding is a normal part of the business world.
Dodge said that, as a rule, all non-professional service contracts are put out to bid every one or two years. However, it’s been the policy of the town to renew contracts if satisfied with vendor performance.
“If you’re satisfied [with the service], to me, that’s a logical reason to stick with the vendors you have,” Dodge said.
“It’s hard for me to see how anyone could do it better than them,” Councilor Norris Pike said of BIRM.
Sean McGarry of BIRM said that he would appreciate the contract, especially since the company needed to recoup some of the money lost in the Waste Haulers vs. Town of New Shoreham case, which Waste Haulers recently dropped.
Warfel said that he did not have any complaints regarding BIRM’s management of the Transfer Station, and the Council asked the Town Manager for a recommendation as to the length of the contract, to be discussed at a later date.
The Council also voted to authorize Dodge to create a contract, not to exceed $10,000, with Attorney Alan Shore, who was recommended by the Rhode Island Office of Digital Excellence during a presentation to the Town Council earlier this year. Shore specializes in broadband and fiber optic connectivity issues, and would be hired to draw up and manage the Indefeasible Right of Use agreement between the Town and National Grid. This agreement is a necessary step towards securing the Town’s ownership, rather than lease, of the “four pair of fiber” within the DeepWater Wind cable. The estimated cost for Shore to push the contract forward is between $5,000 and $10,000, and Dodge said $10,000 would offer the most flexibility.
Warfel said he was wary of hiring an attorney who had been recommended but not reviewed personally by the Council. He suggested issuing Requests for Qualifications. “It would be nice at least to have the appearance of investigation,” Warfel said.
Dodge said that Shore is an expert in the area, that there are a limited number of such experts in the state, and that the Office of Digital Excellence, who recommended Shore, has been a great help to the Town in the past.
First Warden Kim Gaffett expressed concern about the timeframe, and Dodge confirmed that the contract needs to close in two to three weeks, in order to keep the process on track.
“Given the time frame, it seems like a good choice,” Dodge said.
After installation, the cable will remain off the coast for at least 15 years. Such a large investment, Warfel argued, deserves more thought. He wondered aloud as to whether the process could have started earlier.
Gaffett said that the Council seemed to sometimes get “bogged down with micromanaging,” and that talks of the contract and hiring an attorney have been in the works for months. Warfel was the only Councilor in opposition to the decision, which passed 4-1.
Cliff McGinnes of the Block Island Power Company (BIPCo) asked why the Town was pursuing just four pair of the fiber, when 24 are available. He said that the Council needs to think of broadband in the future, and Dodge said that engineers informed the Town a year and a half ago that the proposed number of fibers would service the entire island for the next 20 years.
Another contract was brought up as well, as Dodge’s nine-month Personal Services Agreement expired on Aug. 18, The Town Manager requested a one-year renewal of the contract. In a letter to the Council, she wrote, “With an election less than three months away, I believe a renewal will allow me some stability going forward while allowing a new council time to assess their focus and direction.” Dodge added, too, that there are several projects she’d like to see through completion.
Warfel said that a performance appraisal was required before renewing the contract, though Gaffett said that the renewal was not contingent upon the appraisal. She said that, given the timeline, reviewing the contract does not make sense at present, and that the appraisal and renewal could occur simultaneously.
Warfel said that the idea of a timeline is constantly used as an excuse.
“There’s never a good time for so many things,” he said.
The performance appraisal, Gaffett and Warfel told the rest of the Council, allows the Councilors to rate the Town Manager’s performance and outline future goals.
Councilor Ken Lacoste said he agreed with Warfel’s interpretation.
“I think it’s important to make it clear what we expect,” Lacoste said.
The Council voted, in the end, to go through the evaluation at the next meeting and then make a decision regarding contract renewal.
Following the Department of Environmental Management’s failure to adopt the Town’s proposed archery hunting dates (Beginning on Oct. 14 and excluding holidays and weekends), Dodge sent a letter to Larry Mouradjian, Associate Director of RI DEM, Natural Resources. The Aug. 8 letter informed the DEM of the ordinance passed in 1998, which “provides that the hunting, possession or taking of deer within the boundaries of the town is prohibited except as otherwise authorized by the town council…” The letter also stated that the Town will enforce its proposed dates as authorized by Rhode Island State law. Dodge reported that the DEM’s 2014-2015 hunting abstract, which is not yet available online, states that hunters should check with each individual town for final dates. Dodge said that the Town has already received several calls about the dates, and plans to post updates online and in The Block Island Times. Island hunter Chris Blane suggested that the DEM could also make a correction to the online version of the abstract.
Per Blane’s request earlier this summer, Merolla looked into the allowance of waterfowl hunting on Plat 1 Lot 16, a parcel of land owned by the Town and within the Sachem Pond Wildlife Refuge that was established in 1970. The lot is adjacent to land previously owned by the Breed and Sheffield-White families, who donated the land to the Refuge with the understanding that no hunting of any kind would be allowed on the property.
Currently, limited deer hunting is allowed on Plat 1 Lot 16. In order to allow waterfowl hunting, an amendment to section 11-71 of the 1970 proclamation would be necessary, according to a letter from Merolla and Accetturo Attorneys at Law.
Blane said that all of the land on which he used to hunt waterfowl as a child has been donated to conservation efforts, and that finding places to hunt is getting increasingly difficult. There are plenty of areas where the birds are protected, he said, and he understood that hunting would not be allowed on the land donated to the Town.
The last time hunting was allowed on the land was in 1969, and Gaffett added that she saw no reason to change the ordinance after 45 years. In the end, Gaffett and Pike voted against the ordinance change, which passed 3-2.
More ordinance changes
The Council voted to approve an amendment and addition to the Town of New Shoreham Zoning Ordinance 702 (B) (2), “Permits, Procedures, Enforcements: General Procedures, Notice Requirements.” The major change made was that public notice of hearings must be given 14 days before the hearing, rather than 15. The applicant must also submit an affidavit proving that the notices were distributed by the U.S. Postal Service within the 14-day window.
Following a June 18 discussion on the storage of “junk” cars, Solicitor Merolla drafted two proposed ordinances. The drafts reflected the ideas brought up at the June 18 meeting, and the second draft reflected zoning ordinances in other Rhode Island towns of “comparable size,” Merolla said.
The Council voted to direct Merolla to draft an ordinance change based on the second option, which stipulates that all junk cars stored on public property must have a current safety inspection certificate on the windshield and that no more than two junk cars may be stored or kept outside on private property. Any vehicle on private property that does not have the appropriate safety inspection must be stored on the property in a way that “conforms to the minimum side yard, rear yard and front yard setbacks required by the applicable zoning ordinance.”
During the public input section of the meeting, several island residents voiced their opinions.
Sarah Bacon, a homeowner on the island, announced that she and several other members of the community have formed a new association, BIRR (Block Island Residents for Renewables). Bacon said that many of the BIRR members had an interest in solar energy and encouraging sustainability. She and the other members urged the Council to look into the equity of net metering, avoided cost and a distribution upgrade.
John Warfel, another member, said that the Council should be a “squeaky wheel to the PUC,” and push for answers and change.
“The island will see no increase in the quality of electricity until a distribution upgrade is done,” Warfel said.
Other members of BIRR include Karen and Peter Capuciati, Vin Ryan, Sam Bird, Carlos Salinas, Frank and Carolyn Carbone, Michael Lofaro, Arklay King, Elizabeth Littlefield, and Kevin Hoyt.
Chris Blane said that parking on the island needs to be addressed, especially near Smuggler’s Cove and the stretch of Corn Neck Rd. just before Scotch Beach. Cars are parked on both sides of the road, meaning that there is nowhere for bikes and pedestrians to go, Blane said.
Bob Fallon also brought up the issue of airport safety. He said that he lives near the airport and cannot even talk on the phone, given the steady stream of noisy arrivals and departures.
“I appreciate the commerce and the need for commerce on Block Island,” Fallon said, also adding that the island is “waiting for a tragedy to happen with the increased number of flights.”
The Council voted to approve the New Shoreham Police Department’s monthly report for July 2014, but asked Officer Paul Deane for a more detailed breakdown of parking and traffic ticket issuance in the August report. Pike also suggested a foot patrol on Ocean Ave., around the time when the bars close, as he said it’s very loud.
The University of Rhode Island is responding to a Bureau of Ocean Energy Management RFP to “acquire real-time observations of the construction and initial operation of a wind facility (the Block Island site) to aid the evaluation of environmental effects of future facilities….,” according to an email from Jennifer McCann of URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography. URI asked the Council for a letter of support to include in the RFP.
“They seem like the obvious choice for the state,” Gaffett said.
Pike agreed: “In light of their oceanography program… I think it makes sense.”
Lacoste said that keeping the five-year, $10 million project in-state would be a positive thing, and the Council voted to send a letter of support.
No investigation was deemed necessary after a misunderstanding between Ocean State Bikes (Old Harbor Bike Shop) and the Town was clarified. Community Safety Officers counted 304 bikes on the property, while the business is licensed only to rent 200. John Leone said that 104 of the bikes are kept in storage for sales or on display, and that no more than 200 bikes are ever rented to customers.