Snow fencing still controversial at Conservation CommissionAsian weevils to combat an invasive vine?
The regular monthly meeting of the Conservation Committee on Tuesday, Nov. 12, turned contentious when the topic of the snow fencing along State Beach was addressed. Town Manager Nancy Dodge and town Road Crew Chief Mike Shea were invited to the meeting for this discussion.
Commission members disagreed with Shea on where, when and how to best preserve the sand dunes in that area. In the wake of Super-storm Sandy, which caused vast dune erosion, volunteers, led by the Block Island Residents Association (BIRA), put up extensive lengths of snow-fencing last spring in order to capture blowing sands and build up the dunes again.
BIRA has $4,000 remaining from the funds it raised last year for the purchase of the fencing and now wants to make available those funds for additional fencing to be installed. Shea, who said that he would rather see dune grass planted, was primarily concerned with the lack of maintenance of the snow-fencing. He said that there were areas where the fencing was mostly buried and that this could lead to injuries to beach goers next summer. He felt that the installation of snow fencing was a “tremendous amount of work for very little gain” and that “you can’t just put it in and go away.” He also said that if additional snow fencing was put up now, it would all be blown away and twisted up by spring.
Edward Phillips Jr., Chair of the Commission, contended that, if the fencing was being buried, it was working properly and that additional fencing should be put on top. When Shea said that the fencing should have been maintained, Co-chair Fred Leeder fired back that Shea wanted it “both ways.”
Phillips said “We want to put it up now as it’s our job and passion as commission members to maintain the dunes.”
Still stating his preference for dune grass as a means of anchoring the dunes, Shea said “I would love for you to prove me wrong.”
Phillips said they have some of the needed supplies for additional fencing and asked Dodge if she would weigh the pros and cons and give the Commission a “yea or nay as soon as possible.”
“I understand both sides” said Dodge. “A part of me says I have to defer to [Shea]. I’ll have to let you know.”
Bill Penn, said that this was a “high BIRA priority. We can mobilize the volunteers if Mike [Shea] can point out places where it does need maintenance.”
Shea said that the fencing in the beach access paths needed maintenance and that the snow fencing had created paths that required people to go up a steep incline and then back down. Phillips said that this was exactly what should be happening in order to prevent incoming waves from shooting through the paths and onto the road.
The discussion then turned to how best to keep people off the dunes. Penn said that in the past, BIRA had paid for ads in the Block Island Summer Times as a reminder to people of the importance of staying off of the dunes.
Shea said that the ropes along the paths and at their bases were “a subtle reminder and were low maintenance,” as well as providing a place for signage. When asked about when the ropes would be replaced, he said that it would be done in the spring. He reiterated that he would prefer the use of the ropes and grasses to fencing. Dodge then suggested creating “test spots” for that approach.
Phillips said “we have a Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) permit and want to add on to the fences.”
Finally, Leeder made a motion to send a resolution to the Town Council stating that the commission would like to continue with snow fencing, a motion that was quickly seconded and approved.
Other matters on the agenda were dealt with much more smoothly.
The commission discussed the problems caused from burning pallets at beach fires, chief of which was the debris (mainly nails) left behind. There was a debate as to whether there was a need for a new ordinance to deal with this or whether it could be dealt with under existing policies. One suggestion was to have beach patrolman Matt Moran follow up the day after with those who had applied for fire permits and make them responsible for cleaning up their fire pits. It was noted that Interstate Navigation had started sending the empty freight pallets back to the mainland a couple of years ago, but others said that they had seen plenty of empty pallets and that freight haulers didn’t necessarily take the empty pallets back to the dock for their return.
Shea noted that his department had recently acquired a magnetic device that could locate and sweep up the nails. He also noted that post-beach fire clean up could be easier if fires could be limited to certain areas, citing, as an example a fire pit that they had created a couple of years ago at Mansion Beach that initially contained the problem, but that it was eventually destroyed. In the end, all agreed that using the magnetic device would be the best way to deal with the problem.
B.I. Resorts, Inc. had requested an advisory to the Zoning board of Review for an application for a special use permit under sections 407 and 113 (B)(1)(4) and a variance from section 502 to change an existing laundry and storage building to a rental inn or hotel rooms. Rita Draper, representing B.I. Resorts, said the change “shouldn’t have any impact.” Leeder didn’t see the matter as coming under the jurisdiction of the Conservation Commission, but the board quickly approved the item.
Phillips updated the Commission on the method of using Asian weevils to attack mile-a-minute vine infestations on the island. He cited the successes in using this method in New York City and said that the method was being tested in other areas of Rhode Island. University of Rhode Island researcher Lisa Tewksbury could bring them out to Block Island with approval from the town, he said, but at least one commissioner was skeptical of this approach.
Phillips noted that even without town approval for use on public lands, Tewksbury had said that she could still bring over the weevils for use on private lands by homeowners. “Anyone who wants it could call her. Just wanted to bring it to your attention,” he said, and added that he could have Tewksbury come out in the spring to do a presentation.
The Commission had a brief discussion on pesticide licensing and applications. Phillips said he observes quantities of pesticides coming over from the mainland, such as grub-control products, and he suggested sending a letter reminding residents that pesticide use needs a license. He also noted that no one is enforcing the law and that the Commission should also send out a “reminder” letter to landscapers. The rest of the board concurred and a motion to draft a letter was made.