Residents may have to replace galley drainage systemsCould affect 248 homes
If the Town Council chooses to change its wastewater ordinances to forbid the use of a septic drainage system referred to as a “galley leach field,” 248 island homeowners that have such a system would eventually be responsible for replacing it.
At the Wednesday, Sept. 19, meeting, the council heard a proposal from Town Wastewater Management Inspector Don Thimble. Thimble explained to the council that galley leach fields are considered “failed” systems according to state law and current town ordinances. It was Thimble that informed the council that 248 such systems were installed on Block Island.
A galley leach system is a deep concrete chamber, which receives and stores effluent, or waste material, from a septic system. Thimble said that the reason the systems are “inadequate” is because they are often installed deep underground, and waste from them could flow into the groundwater.
Thimble proposed that the council should require island residents to hire a licensed professional to test their galley systems to see if they are adequate.
Thimble said he would not know what this testing would cost island residents.
Island resident David Dow, who owns a septic business called OnSite Collaborative, said the testing could cost each resident at least $1,000. According to Dow, the cost for replacing the galley system would vary depending on the size of the property, but costs could be in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Dow opposed Thimble’s proposed changes, primarily because Dow felt the testing would be a waste of time and money.
“To inspect the systems is to spend unnecessary time and money,” said Dow. “This money could be spent on eliminating the problem entirely.”
Dow proposed that the town should begin a galley “phase-out” program, requiring all residents to replace their systems after a period of time, perhaps in six years. Dow suggested that the council start with properties close to the Great Salt Pond and other watershed areas. After these systems were replaced, all others residents who have one of these systems would have to replace them.
“The reason the state said they [galley systems] are a ‘failed system’ is because they do not work,” said Dow. “There should be systematic replacement rather than inspection.”
The Town Council heard comments from several other island residents on this topic. Edie Blane noted that replacing septic systems could be a burden on island residents, and asked if there are low interest loans available for homeowners. Thimble responded that such loans are available.
“I’d hate to mandate something that could cost people $15,000,” said councilor Sean McGarry.
However, other island residents, including Conservation Commission member Fred Leeder, commented on how important it is to protect the island’s water supply — all of the island’s drinking water comes from the same aquifer.
The council voted 5-0 to reject Thimble’s initial proposal, but asked Thimble to come back with another proposal, which would outlaw the galley systems altogether and require existing ones to be replaced.
Hawker’s and Peddler’s Ordinance
The council also approved changes to the town Hawker’s and Peddler’s ordinance.
The changes require anyone who is granted a Hawker’s and Peddler’s license — a license to own a food-sales cart such as a hot-dog stand on town-owned property — to have been resident of the island for at least five years.
The changes also include requirements for applying for the license. The Town Council is responsible for choosing up to three licensees in any one year.
The council also voted that the application fee for those interested in obtaining this license be $150, and the license will be available for an area on Settler’s Rock (Plat 1, Lot 119).
Town Manager contract
Also discussed at the meeting was the proposed contract for Town Manager Nancy Dodge.
Earlier this month, the Town Council voted for a nine-month contract period for Dodge, with a review of her performance in January 2014. The council also drafted the terms of the contract, which vary only slightly from her most recent contract that expired in December 2012.
The council has yet to approve the final contract, but set a date for a meeting to discuss the goals expected for Dodge, which are separate from the contract, on Monday, Sept. 23. This meeting will be held after the council meets with the Block Island Health Services at 7 p.m.
Also at the Wednesday, Sept. 19 council meeting, Town Councilor Sean McGarry made a motion to continue the discussion of Dodge’s contract at a future meeting, and re-advertise the agenda item to be held in closed session because of “potential litigation.”
Other councilors were unsure why this would be the case. “What do you think is going to be litigated,” asked Second Warden Ken Lacoste.
McGarry suggested that there was confusion over the amount included in Dodge’s contract about her salary. The amount included in the draft contract was listed as lower than the compensation Dodge is currently receiving — Dodge received a pay raise on July 1. Because of this, McGarry said there could be “many possibilities” for a lawsuit, including from “the employee” or a “private resident.”
However, Dodge’s salary, with the July 1 pay raise, was included as a line item in the 2014 fiscal year budget. The Town Council and the Town voters approved this amount at the Town Financial meeting in May.
McGarry’s motion failed 3-2, with McGarry and Warfel the aye votes.
“There is no imminent threat of litigation,” said town solicitor Katherine Merolla.
Other council matters
The council spent some time talking about privately-planted privet hedges around the island. The discussion was in response to a series of photos prepared by island resident Edie Blane, who gave a packet to the council last month titled “privet hedges and other problems.” This packet contained 24 photographs of hedges and other material such as rocks around the island that are not properly maintained or are too close to town roads, according to Blane. Town Road Crew Chief Mike Shea reported he is keeping an eye on the problem, and does trim back hedges when they encroach on town property.
The council voted to award a bid to repair the Old Harbor Bait Dock, which was damaged last October after Hurricane Sandy. The bid was awarded to Reagan Construction, of Newport, R.I., the lowest bidder of three applications at a cost of $192,300.
The council voted 4-1 to waive the application fees for the Block Island Learning Center (ELC), which is applying to build a new shed and fence on its property. The ELC is a non-profit, and fees are generally waived by the council. Councilor McGarry voted against this on principle; he said this should not be before the council at all, and the fees should be automatically waived for non-profits.
The council also voted to approve two special event applications for two outdoor weddings on private property. The vote was 4-1 for both applications; McGarry also voted against these on principle. The applications came in after the deadline of one month prior to the event, and McGarry argued that there should be a less stringent deadline, since the council has recently seen several late applications.
The council adjourned its meeting at almost 11:30 p.m. At this point — after four and a half hours — it had addressed 10 of its 18 agenda items. The council motioned to continue the rest of the agenda at its Oct. 7 meeting.