The Block Island Times

Committee created to study municipal assets

By Lars Trodson | Apr 13, 2014
Photo by: Kari Curtis

A new subcommittee of the Planning Board will be created to develop a long-term strategy to address the needs of the town’s physical assets. The subcommittee, which was approved by the Town Council at its Monday, April 7 meeting, will be comprised of seven to nine members, three of which will be from the Planning Board while others will be volunteers from the community.

The idea was developed by the members of the planning board and presented to the council by board member Sven Risom.

“How do we build a holistic 15- to 20-year plan that links our needs to island facilities and land,” Risom asked the council. The idea of the subcommittee was to avoid “where we are, which is with buildings in disrepair.” The subcommittee’s stated goal is to create what is called a Large Capital Asset Strategy (LCAS).

Goals include several deliverables, including:

A strategy to optimize the use of the town’s large assets/capital.

The development of an infrastructure, building and maintenance plan.

Cost analysis and bonding or funding options.

A list of buildings that need reviewing are: the Coast Guard Station (and related buildings), the Police/Fire/Rescue buildings, Town Hall, the Beach Pavilion, the Welcome Center, harbors buildings, the Transfer Station, the Block Island School, the Doctor’s House, the Medical Center, and the Island Free Library. The committee will also review town-owned land.

The new subcommittee plans to hold two to three forums for public input, and will also create an extended subcommittee team that includes all appropriate Town of New Shoreham department heads in order, according to language contained in the presentation, to “gain insights from those most familiar with the assets.” The plan also includes a recommended budget of $1,500 to help cover any costs that may be incurred, such as inviting a speaker to the island if need be.

Risom outlined a schedule: He said he hoped to have the committee formed by the end of April (please see related story on page 13); to hold the workshops and establish priorities by the end of the fall; to review all findings with the Town council and Planning Board by October, 2014; and present the report to the planning board for comment and approval. The final report is to be presented to the New Shoreham Town Council by January 2015.

Although the schedule was ambitious, Risom said, “I don’t think this is something you rush. You need to do it right.”

“I think it sounds great,” said First Warden Kim Gaffett, but added “I don’t know where the money is coming from. “We’re talking tonight of adding things to the budget.”

Gaffett was referring to a subject that was not specifically related to the Planning Board’s proposal for the subcommittee, but which had repurcussions nonetheless, and that is the condition of the doctor’s house. The house is on the list of town assets to be reviewed, but the council spoke at the meeting of the need to address repairs to the building immediately because a search for a successor to the island doctor, Janice Miller, will be underway soon. The island doctor is a resident of that home.

“This has come right up against the need for fixing the doctor’s house,” said Gaffett of the proposed subcommittee. What the level of funding will be to address the house's needs is not known.

Bill Penn, who was in the audience, also recommended that members of the island’s Historic District Commission (HDC) be included in the discussion, given that many of the town’s assets have “historical significance." Penn is chair of the HDC.

Second Warden Ken Lacoste said some consideration should be given to how the buildings would be maintained after they have been improved.

“That’s been on our radar for discussion,” said Planning Board Chair Margie Comings, who was also in the audience.

The proposal to create the subcommittee was unanimously endorsed by the council.

Stylish considerations

The Town Council wants to stay out of the business of trying to tell other people what is the definition of “clean and neat.”

The conversation came up at the council’s Monday, April 7 meeting. A proposal by the Motor Vehicle For Hire Commission (MVFH) for new regulations concerning the attire of taxi drivers, as well some other issues, was the topic. The council did vote to adopt some new measures, including not allowing external advertising (other than the name of the cab company) on island taxicabs, but the dress code? Not so much.

The council found the proposed regulations deficient in a number of areas, including the idea that it would try to define what kind of clothes the island’s taxi drivers should wear. “I think we should just drop it,” said Gaffett, at least about that part of the conversation. “They’re punting this to us.”

Town attorney Kathy Merolla said that she was a little confused as to the purpose of the MVFH proposal. “They say this is to have control over their drivers, but they already have that,” said Merolla, meaning that as business owners they can set their own dress codes. Speaking of the language that had been forwarded to the council, Merolla said “ordinances addressing these issues have to be more specific than this, otherwise don’t even bother."

The MVFH, at its March 26, 2014 meeting, recommended sending the following language to the council for its approval (italics in the language are in the original document):

1. Adopt a regulation to read “Appropriate dress suggested (clean and neat in appearance) at owner’s discretion. This gives the owner control over his/her drivers.

2. Advertising: Not allowed on exterior of motor vehicles for hire. For the purposes of this regulation, information identifying the motor vehicle for hire is not considered to be advertising, but identification.

3. The Pets regulation should read: Chauffers may not bring personal pets to work, except for licensed service animals. It was felt by owners and drivers that this would be a liability to the Town as well as potential risk to the consumer. Fares’ pets may be carried at the discretion of the chauffer; except for licensed service animals must be carried.

4. [MVFH] Voted unanimously to retain the $6.00 basic fare.

5. [MVFH] Voted unanimously to request that the Council add a $1.00 surcharge for dogs not in carriers. It was felt by the owners/drivers that in general dogs required additional cleaning thus removing itself from the road for a period of time to prepare the cab for the next fare (dander, hair, water, dust and often sand).

In the end, the council voted to adopt the language contained in regulations 2, 3 and 5.

Other business

The owners of roughly 220 homes on the island that have galley drain fields on their property now have a way of testing the galleys to see if they are having any impact on the town’s water tables or acquifer without having to replace them outright, which is what an earlier proposal had called for. The council voted to approve the proposal, which had been submitted by town Wastewater Management Inspector Don Thimble.

“Once a property owner is notified by the town, the first step for the owner will be the hiring of a certified designer. The designer has enough experience to recommend to the owner if he feels it is worthwhile to do a soil evaluation in the area of existing galleys and possibly obtain the required separation [between the bottom of the galleys and the seasonal high groundwater table] or simply condemn the existing field, perform a soil evaluation in a different area and design a new field based on soil evaluation results,” according to the proposal written by Thimble.

The test would cost about $1,000 instead of between $7,000 to $10,000 for a new system.

“The council supports the measure and we should notify Don and ask him to pursue it,” said Gaffett.

Consulting contract

The council also voted to extend the contract of consultant Richard La Capra to continue working on the impacts of the proposed Deepwater Wind farm to the island.

La Capra's contract calls for a rate of $195 per hour plus expenses for travel, and should not exceed the amount of $7,500 for the year. Invoices will be prepared monthly for review and payable upon receipt.

Councilor Chris Warfel said he "definitely opposed" extending the contract, saying he found La Capra's work "lacking." He recommended putting out a Request for Quotation (RFQ) to widen the search, adding that if, in the end, the town still worked with La Capra it would know that it was receiving the best services possible.

"I think he's done a good job," said Gaffett, which led to a lengthy discussion. When Town Solicitor Kathy Merolla said she was going to need La Capra's services sooner than later, Warfel's motion to table the discussion and issue the RFQ failed.

When Gaffett made a motion to include language that extended La Capra's contract into 2016, Warfel said, "Please!" and Gaffett motioned to extend for one year and the motion passed.


The council unanimously approved intiating a study by members of the faculty at the University of Central Florida to use Block Island as a "proxy for a microgrid study." A microgrid essentially uses a variety of power sources to generate its energy needs, including wind turbines, solar panels, and small-scale hydro sources — as well as conservation methods — to study costs. The microgrid study also will analyze how secure the island's energy infrastructure is in case of a manmade or natural outage.

"I feel like as an academic exercise, fine, but it’s really up to BIPCo if they want to participate," said Gaffett.

Block Island Power Company co-owner Cliff McGinnes was in the audience and said he had no problem with participating in the study.





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