The Block Island Times

Quonset ferry asks for help

By Stephanie Turaj | Sep 10, 2013
Courtesy of: Rhode Island Fast Ferry Rhode Island Fast Ferry's Ava Pearl

At the Tuesday, Sept. 3, council meeting, Rhode Island Fast Ferry president Charles Donadio asked the council to collaborate with him on finding docking space for his proposed fast ferry to Quonset Point.

Rhode Island Fast Ferry, which runs high-speed ferries from Quonset Point to Martha’s Vineyard, has applied to the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers to operate a new high-speed service to Block Island from Quonset. This would be a summer-only service.

“This needs to be a partnership — I’m not looking to force a ferry service on the island,” said Donadio. “I do not have a dock space on the island. I have a few ideas I’m hoping you might consider.” He outlined three possible options in Old Harbor: the bait dock, the Army Corps of Engineers dock, or having the town build a new dock. If the town decided to build a new dock, Donadio suggested there could be grant funds available, and he would consider investing in this project as well.

At the meeting, councilors did not make a decision on the proposed dock options, but agreed to put the discussion on another agenda. “The main question is: Do we want this service?” said First Warden Kim Gaffett. Most councilors, including Norris Pike, said that they could see both positives and negatives to the service. Also at the meeting, island resident Rosemarie Ives spoke in favor of the service and its potential to provide links to other public transportation.

Prior to the Tuesday Town Council meeting, it was announced that Block Island Express, which operates a summer seasonal Block Island ferry service from New London, Conn., filed a motion to intervene in the consideration the proposed Quonset ferry. The motion to intervene would grant Block Island Express legal status in the hearing of the proposed ferry before the R.I. Division of the Public Utilities and Carriers.

In the motion to intervene, which was sent to the R.I. Division of the Public Utilities and Carriers on Aug. 30, Block Island Express said that the new fast ferry service would add additional congestion to Block Island’s Old Harbor, therefore increasing the likelihood for accidents.

The motion also claims that Rhode Island Fast Ferry, the company that has proposed the new ferry service, plans to use the dock owned by Ballard’s Wharf Marina in Old Harbor. At the Tuesday council meeting, Ballard’s co-owner Paul Filippi denied this claim.

“That is not true. I don’t know how they [Block Island Express] obtained that information,” said Filippi. “There is no such agreement in place.”

Transfer station payment issue

The council voted to have the Town Solicitor look into a dispute between the Town of New Shoreham and Block Island Recycling Management (BIRM), which operates the town transfer station. The town believes that BIRM owes the town $13,131.28 in usage fees. There is currently a dispute between the two parties as to whether BIRM is responsible for paying these or whether the fees can be covered because of an agreement with the Rhode Island Resource Recovery program. Councilor Sean McGarry is co-owner of BIRM.

Dodge has been handling the situation, but she said that in light of the recent discussion about her contract, “I’d rather pass it off to someone else.” (McGarry has been critical about Dodge’s job performance and is participating in a discussion about her contract.)

“I’m disappointed to learn of this situation,” said Councilor Warfel. “I think it would have been more appropriate for the town manager to let us know earlier. It doesn’t really let anybody have time to do an investigation.”

Dodge said she was hoping that the issue would have been resolved by the end of August, but it hadn’t been. The 4-0 vote asked the town solicitor to look into this, with McGarry recused.

Public Input

Three island residents provided public input at the council meeting. Edith Blane noted that some of the snow fencing, which was installed this spring on Crescent Beach to protect the dunes, had been knocked down in the area across from Beach Avenue. Blane also said that a sundial, installed on Town Hall property around 30 years ago in memory of her sister, had been damaged. She also again commented about the health of the tree in front of Town Hall, asking that the town make sure that it is properly cared for.

Island resident John “Doc” Willis provided several short comments: concerns about the island being “overcharged” by both the Block Island Power Company and the Block Island gas station, and concerns about the cell phone and internet reception around the island.

Block Island Power Company (BIPCo) co-owner Cliff McGinnes, Sr. informed the Town Council that BIPCo wasn’t able to make a deadline for a particular federal grant it had hoped to apply for. McGinnes commented that the power company is still looking into other grant applications, particularly to help pay for a new generator engine that would allow it to use Liquefied Natural Gas as a fuel source.

Other matters

Gary Pollard, owner of the Empire Theatre, came before the council to ask if he could show movies at Town Hall during the winter. He recently raised funds to purchase a new digital projector (See story on page 25), which would be portable, allowing him to provide movie screenings in the winter. As the Empire Theatre is not heated, he would need a different venue to do so.

However, he said that while the Town Hall meeting chambers had seemed like a good idea, after sitting in them during the council meeting, he had changed his mind. The Town Council also agreed that the Town Hall would not be the most ideal location, and gave Pollard other suggestions.

The council voted to add Plat 6, lots 59, 60 and 61, located on Old Town Road, to the town water district.

Ted Merrit has resigned from his post as an alternate on the town Harbors Committee. There is now an opening on the Harbors Committee for an alternate position, although there was indication that another committee member would like to serve as alternate, so there may be an open member spot instead.

Also, the council engaged in a lengthy discussion about its own process for preparing meeting packets distributed to councilors. Some councilors, including Sean McGarry, wanted a longer time to review information. Councilors ultimately agreed that the Town Clerk should have their packets available to them “at least three working days” before a meeting.

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