Council talks public works
At a Town Council meeting Wednesday, January 2, no motions were made, but the council spent much time in lengthy, friendly discussion about public works projects, often taking tangents and brainstorming.
Town Manager Nancy Dodge reported on the status of several projects. She updated the council on road repairs after Hurricane Sandy and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) claims. She noted that the town received insurance money to repair the damaged Old Harbor bait dock, but the town has not yet received money to dredge in Old Harbor. Estimates are about $130,000 to repair the dock and about $168,000 to dredge, said Dodge.
Much discussion centered around what to do about the new low-lying dunes along the rebuilt southern section of Corn Neck Road. Just days after road construction was completed and Rosa rugosa was planted in the reconstructed dunes, a storm struck the island, flooded the newly built road, damaged the dunes and littered the new plants and sand over the road.
Town councilors tossed out many different ideas on how to repair and/or prevent the problem. Second Warden Ken Lacoste wondered if the dredging spoils off the Town Beach affected shore wave action. Others wondered if the loss of part of the breakwater, also damaged during Sandy, may have played a role in the more recent storm damage. Others discussed using rocks or concrete blocks to lessen wave energy.
Also discussed was Sunday's sewer overflow. "My concern is that over this past year, I don’t even know how many sewer spills we’ve been having in and around the pond," said councilor Sean McGarry. "They’re all obviously not connected, but there has to be some common thread among them all, whether it’s the age of the line, whether it’s the type of maintenance that’s going on, whether it's regulation and restaurant disposal."
The council threw around ideas to aid the sewer plant in preventing spills, including more proactive restaurant inspection, and helping the town upgrade the sewer system. While expensive upgrade costs would otherwise fall on island ratepayers, First Warden Kim Gaffett appeared amenable to hearing a proposal from the Sewer Commission and sewer personnel asking for town assistance. But, she noted, they have yet to submit one.
Council member Chris Warfel brought to the council’s attention a homeowner’s concern about Sands Pond. Fran Migliaccio wrote a letter detailing the pond’s flooding and the damage it wreaked on her property (Plat 9, Lot 11) and home. She asked for some assistance from the council. In addition, the Sands Pond Residents Association had written to the council in 2010 after the council agreed to “coordinate an approach to make a plan and restore the natural drainage gradient to the south of Sands Pond," says the letter. But Migliaccio claimed the letter received no response.
Warfel called for more action on the issue. He suggested the town repair the road construction alongside the pond, which could be impeding proper drainage of the pond.
Dodge said that it may not be such an easy fix, and that there had been much research and discussion in the past about this matter.
During the discussion, questions arose over what permits the town would have to obtain, who actually is responsible for the pond and what legal action may result from those adversely affected if there was a drainage change. Gaffett suggested this discussion be added to the next council's work session agenda.
Dodge also reported on town, state and federal hunting schedules. During a general discussion on hunting, councilor Norris Pike suggested a bounty on deer in order to encourage hunters to take more. Other council members expressed hope that the Deer Task Force come up with some concrete deer eradication possibilities.
The council received a briefing of the roles of two town consultants, Richard LaCapra and Wall MacDonald. Dodge explained that the two have performed consulting work for the town on matters related to Deepwater Wind, Interstate Navigation and the Block Island Power Company.
In November, ferry company Interstate Navigation filed for a rate increase with the R.I. Public Utilities Commission (PUC), and the town plans to intervene in the matter. Dodge explained that the council should make a decision on whether to employ the services of LaCapra or MacDonald for the Interstate filing. She added that Town Solicitor Kathy Merolla would act as the town's attorney.
Warfel questioned if LaCapra had performed work during the last Interstate rate case, which was six years ago. Dodge and Gaffett thought he had, but were not sure. Warfel said he’d like to see someone new come before the PUC, as it is often the same people who go before the commission.
McGarry asked who else would be available to perform this role, and a few names were thrown around and discussed informally.
Gaffett noted that the council meeting agenda for Monday, January 7, included the Interstate rate filing as well as a Block Island Power Company rate filing.
Email, projectors and maybe a TV
It has been about a month since the new Town Council — which includes three new members — took office, and councilors are still adjusting.
Warfel brought up two items. The first regarded the Town Council email. All councilors received an official town email address. Warfel, who said he already has a personal and business email, asked if his town emails could be forwarded to his personal emails. Town IT contractor Michele Spero had responded to him that this was technically possible but not necessarily in line with town and state policy.
In response, the five council members discussed how they prefer to conduct email communication (via personal email, town email, a combination of both, etc.)
Warfel also asked if there was a town projector that the council could use to display documents at meetings, in order to conserve paper and assist the public. The other councilors seemed in favor of this, and discussed possibly obtaining a flat screen television by donation or some other means to present documents.