Council approves deer plan
In a 3 to 0 vote, the New Shoreham Town Council approved a comprehensive plan to reduce Block Island’s deer. This approval is conditional on receiving a legal review of the plan by the town’s attorney.
The state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) plan, titled “Block Island Deer Reduction,” will involve a non-recreational hunt with a professional sharpshooting company called White Buffalo, Inc. Preparations will begin January, and the hunt is scheduled to take place in early February.
Councilor Norris Pike, First Warden Kim Gaffett, and Second Warden Ken Lacoste voted for the plan. Councilor Chris Warfel abstained, stating he did not want to support or deny the plan.
“I just think we have to do something, and the time to do it is now,” said Councilor Norris Pike at the council meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 18. “I commend the Deer Task Force for all its work. I think we’re at a point now where we would like to be moving forward.”
The first year of this plan is designed to reduce the island’s deer population by about 200, according to the DEM. According to DEM wildlife biologist Brian Tefft, there may be as many as 1,200 deer on the island.
The plan would only go into effect if sufficient funding is raised. Private organizations, including the Block Island Residents Association, have been fundraising to pay for the estimated cost of $128,300.
“I have quite a few concerns about how this is constructed,” said Warfel. “I do think a lot of this could have been handled with island hunters... This concept is going to move half a million dollars off the island. I know it is private money, but I think that deer reduction can be achieved for much less, and keep the money in our economy.”
Gaffett responded by stating, “Island hunters can hunt now. Anyone who wants to go hunting can do so. This plan is not a hunting program, this is a deer management cull.”
Lacoste, who supported the DEM plan, also commented, “You want to eliminate the deer herd, and you want local hunters to eliminate the deer herd. Except you don’t want your kids to have guns... There’s got to be sort of an adjustment in our mentality. If you got a bunch of young guys out here who’ve grown up like we used to, bringing their shotguns to school even in the principal’s office and going hunting after school, we might have a lot fewer deer.”
A debate ensued about the DEM’s proposal. Several audience members echoed the request to use island hunters. Some questioned the safety and the potential effectiveness of the plan.
But others called for it to be approved, mentioning the need to reduce Lyme disease on-island.
“We have to start somewhere for the health of the community,” said island resident Annie Hall, referring to the notion that tick-borne diseases would be reduced if the deer population is reduced. “My children have already had Lyme disease... but I hope my grandchildren never have to go through the chronic suffering that comes with Lyme disease.”
This has been the work of years of discussion. It is the first time there has been a comprehensive plan approved to reduce the deer herd on Block Island.
Last fall, a representative from the DEM, Cathy Sparks, attended a council meeting where island residents expressed concern about the deer population and Lyme disease. After that meeting, members of the Block Island Deer Task Force began collaborating with the DEM and the R.I. Department of Health in a series of meetings.
The DEM filed “emergency regulations,” to allow this plan to be developed, declaring, “a non-recreational deer reduction program is required in order to protect the fragile habitats and unique natural communities found on Block Island.”
“I want to thank the Council and the Deer Task Force for getting as far as you have, I’ve been coming to these meetings for years and years,” said island resident Molly Fitzpatrick, whose comment was met with applause.
Fitzpatrick added, “And I hit a deer home on the way home from the last DEM meeting.”
Also at the Dec. 18 meeting, the council went through a list of appointments to town boards and committees, re-appointing those who have wished to continue serving. Most votes were unanimous; however, Councilor Chris Warfel voted against re-appointing Bill Penn as member of the Electric Utilities Task Group (EUTG).
“I’m very disturbed by the repeated misinformation he puts out as a town committee member,” Warfel said.
New appointees are Pat Evans to the Motor Vehicles for Hire Commission; Julie Fuller to the Tourism Board; Sven Risom to the Tourism Board; Rick Locke to the North Light Commission; Susie Wright to the Old Harbor Task Force; and Steve Land to the Early Learning Center Board.
There are openings on the following boards: one on the EUTG, one on the Old Harbor Task Force, and three (two alternate roles, one regular role) on the Recreation Board.
The council renewed a list of individuals to their position as town officials, which include alarm officer, harbormaster and corder of wood. These positions are renewed around this time each year.
Also, the council voted to renew the services of Town Solicitor Katherine Merolla, voting to increase her hourly rate to $165 per hour. She was previously paid $150. Town Councilor Chris Warfel also said he wanted to sign Merolla to a contract with the town.
“It doesn’t make any sense not to have our solicitor on contract,” said Warfel. “She could leave us at any time. No matter how unlikely that is, it’s still possible.”
Second Warden Ken Lacoste said he wanted more information on a possible contract before the council voted on approving that. Other councilors agreed.
Also at the meeting, the council:
- Tabled a discussion to amend a town ordinance. This amendment would require a special event license for events of more than 50 people, and would limit the number of special event licenses a homeowner can obtain. The purpose of this change, said councilors, was to prevent homeowners from using their residence as a private business to host weddings and other parties. However, after a discussion, councilors felt this change would not effectively address the issue. They tabled the topic for more input.
- Set a definition for yacht clubs and set a limit for how many yacht clubs are allowed town mooring permits. The council previously approved these matters in August, but at this meeting formally adopted them into the town’s ordinances.
- Accepted the monthly police report for November.
- Waived a fee for the Block Island Community Center’s victualing license.
- Renewed nine commercial shellfishing licenses, which is done annually.