Council approves police training for Harbormaster Steve Land
The Town Council has approved a plan for island Harbormaster Steve Land to train as a police officer this winter.
Once Land completes training at the state police Academy, which starts in January, he will have full police powers, allowing him to enforce laws in both of the island’s harbors. He would be able to issue tickets for speeding or boating under the influence. While he will still perform his main harbormaster duties, he will also provide back-up help to the police department as needed, especially during the winter months.
“Having the harbormaster as an officer gives us additional benefits — he’s one more set of hands. There’s a lot of small benefits to our safety that aren’t financial benefits,” said Police Chief Vincent Carlone at a Wednesday, Oct. 16 Town Council meeting.
The council gave preliminary approval for the training in September, but wanted to determine the financial impact before granting final approval.
According to Town Manager Nancy Dodge, Land would receive a $15,000 pay raise for taking on the additional training and responsibility.
However, having Land fill the position in lieu of hiring another full-time officer would save the town $18,624 the first year, and $29,014 the second year, Dodge reported. Land would be filling a currently open slot for a fourth officer, which has been vacant since Tom Pennell left the island’s police department.
There are currently three police officers on staff, as well as Chief Carlone. However, Carlone said the state police union prefers the department have a minimum of four officers. He added there still might be the need for a fifth officer in the future.
In response to a question from councilor Sean McGarry, Carlone said the police department plans to continue its Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program for the Block Island School, which Pennell had previously managed.
The council unanimously approved Land’s training. However, two members of the audience had questions about this proposal.
“My concern is the big bump in salary for having additional training,” said island resident Molly O’Neill. “We have other department heads who have other advanced degrees.”
Carlone responded that Land will be working additional hours, particularly in the winter, so his pay raise reflects this. Carlone noted he will be tracking the needs of the police department this winter, to see exactly how often the department would need Land’s assistance.
“In the past, the harbormaster job requires a lot of hours in summer; sometimes 70 to 80 hours a week,” said island resident Robbie Closter, who is also the town recreation director. “Will putting in that extra time as an officer place stress on the harbormaster?”
Responding to Closter, Dodge said, “The harbormaster is well aware what he’s getting himself into — he said yes.”
Much of the council’s three-and-a-half hour meeting was taken up by a lengthy discussion about the possibility of bringing an electric cable to Block Island.
Dodge drafted a letter to the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission [PUC], asking if the commission would reconsider the option of providing an electric transmission cable to Block Island, which would run underwater and connect the island to the mainland power grid. The letter also asked if the PUC would consider “socializing” the cost of the cable, that is, sharing the cost with all National Grid ratepayers.
This would be separate from Deepwater Wind’s proposed wind farm off Block Island, which would include an electric cable as part of the project.
“The timing of this is a little late,” commented McGarry, who supported the letter. “I very much supported this concept when we were weighing the cost of hosting these monstrosities [the wind turbines].”
Town Council member Chris Warfel also supported the letter, but proposed several changes. He noted it did not properly convey the fact that this matter originated from island residents’ concerns.
After spending about a half hour debating the wording, the council voted unanimously to send the letter.
During this discussion, the council veered off track multiple times. At one point, Warfel engaged in a conversation with island resident Rosemarie Ives regarding the cable and the Deepwater project as a whole. Warfel questioned the validity of the electricity cost savings the town Electric Utilities Task Group [EUTG] has claimed Deepwater’s wind farm would bring.
“It’s been brought up to the EUTG that they haven’t done the proper analysis,” Warfel said. “The PUC didn’t do the right analysis, the DEM [Department of Environmental Management] didn’t do the right analysis; nobody in the state of Rhode Island has done the right analysis.”
At one point during the conversation, First Warden Kim Gaffett attempted to veer the council back on track, but Warfel continued.
“If you want to keep going, keep going — we’ll all sit here and wait for you to finish,” said Gaffett.
“I will,” responded Warfel, noting that he felt some of what was being discussed was relevant to the letter.
Island resident Bill McKernan also spoke in support of the letter, noting that a cable would also be important for other utilities such as fiber-optic internet service.
Triathlon date concerns
Fifteen island residents signed a letter asking the Town Council to consider changing the date of its annual Block Island Triathlon. The town-sponsored race is traditionally held on a weekend in August. This year it was held on Aug. 3.
The letter, which was signed by various business owners and cab drivers and dated Aug. 15, said: “With Saturdays in August being so busy, would it be possible to plan this event in the future on either a Saturday in September, the week after the 4th of July or even during the middle of the week so that we can completely benefit from the visitors?”
The letter continued: “People are unable to get accommodations because of the volume of visitors, beach goers are turned away, unable to use the facilities after spending their money traveling on the ferry. Traffic was snarled for approximately two hours, leaving some visitors almost missing their ferry connections.”
The Recreation Board responded to the letter in a memo to the Town Council on Oct. 3. The board recommended keeping the original date for a variety of reasons including other mainland triathlons held on other weekends, weekdays not being convenient for participants, and weather concerns in September.
“I’d like to make the point that the summer is the time for the businesses to make money — it’s not the time for the town to make money,” said island resident Henry Peterson, who signed the letter. “Let’s move it to September — it would just generate that much more business.”
Recreation Director Robbie Closter was reluctant to change the date. However, he noted that he’s working on chartering an early ferry to move the race to an earlier time in the morning, which could help alleviate traffic concerns.
“The run on Block Island currently brings 200 people at this time. This is an extremely well-run event for what it is,” said Tourism Council Director Jessica Willi. “I would like to commend the recreation director for what he does. It’s something that’s working. But I love the suggestion of running two events.”
Councilors suggested hosting an additional race in September to bring more business to the island and to use as a trial run to see if September would work better than August.
Closter said he was still concerned about weather and staffing issues, particularly for lifeguards.
“I work 80 hours a week to put that event on,” said Closter. “To put an event on in September — I do not have the seasonal staff.”
During public input, Margie Comings, representing the Old Harbor Task Force provided three comments. She said grasses have been planted at Esta’s park. She also added that the hydrangea plants near the park do not look healthy, and the cause was determined to be the fact that the underground watering system was never turned on. She also asked the council if state approval had been given to install stairs at the corner across from the National Hotel. Dodge said she is still working with the state Coastal Resources Management Council on the matter.
Ives asked the council to investigate if Deepwater would still be responsible for installing an electric cable if it does not build its proposed Block Island wind farm, but does build a larger wind farm project in federal waters farther east of Block Island.
Also, island resident Edie Blane thanked those who helped replace the missing sundial near Town Hall, which had been installed in memory of Blane’s sister.
Warfel brought to the council’s attention the concern that no store on Block Island accepts government food stamps through the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). The council discussed ways to provide stamps to those island residents in need, either through the Block Island Grocery, or through a grocery delivery service such as PeaPod. The council also considered bringing representatives from this program to the island, in order to educate island shop owners.
The council proposed three changes to the town special events provision, which requires island residents to apply for approval of private events involving more than 100 people. The council unanimously voted to propose that residents must obtain town approval for events over 50 people. In addition, the council voted to reduce the limit of cars allowed at these to 20 (currently, 50 vehicles are allowed), and the number of special events per household allowed to two (currently, there’s four events allowed per household). These changes have not been finalized; they will be debated at a future public hearing.
The council agreed to have a consultant represent the town in any future public hearings about a proposed state rule that would exclude the town from participating in some grant applications. Town Solicitor Katherine Merolla said the proposal by the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation (EDC) could make Block Island ineligible to receive EDC renewable energy grants.
The Motor Vehicles for Hire Commission (MVHC) has proposed a reduction in the number of taxi licenses from 34 to 32. The two licenses would be lost through attrition and would not be replaced. The MVHC also proposed a set of regulations for cab drivers, including a dress code. The council set a public hearing date for these proposals for Monday, Dec. 2.
Also, the council approved a resolution from the Block Island School, calling for increased internet bandwidth to meet the school’s education needs. The resolution will be sent to government representatives.
There is a hearing date for a failed septic system violation on a property off Corn Neck Road (Plat 4, Lot 32-2) on Nov. 4.
Gary Pollard was appointed to the Harbors Committee, and Bob Littlefield to an alternate position on this committee. Also Norris Pike was appointed to be the Town Council’s representative on the Hodge Management Committee, with Second Warden Ken Lacoste serving as an alternate.