The Block Island Times

Top news stories of 2013

Dec 31, 2013

Here are the top 15 news stories of 2013. They are published in chronological order.

Nemo’s winds stronger than Hurricane Sandy’s

Published Feb. 16

Block Island escaped the worst of a winter storm this February. The storm, nicknamed “Nemo” by The Weather Channel, began Friday night, Feb. 8 and lasted through Saturday morning. Over the weekend, about 105 residents were out of power. The storm cancelled island ferry service for two days and planes for four days.

Because snowfall varied on parts of the island, there was no official count, but it appeared to be less than a foot. (Other areas of New England had reports of 38 inches.)

Island wind gusts were strong. The Block Island water tower recorded top gusts of 74 mph and top sustained of 69 mph. These gusts were stronger than Hurricane Sandy’s, which occurred in Oct. 2012.

Mary D Retires

Published March 9

On March 15 of this year, Mary Donnelly officially retired from her position as state nurse. She was 85 and had been serving the island in that capacity for 55 years. Mary D is, as islanders well know, as much a symbol of the place as Rebecca, and just as durable.

Retirement, however, did not mean inactivity. Her energetic presence is still very much in evidence, whether it’s still visiting with her old patients, attending an event, or nurturing the Mary D Fund, which raises tens of thousands of dollars a year to assist local residents.

A documentary made about Mary’s life, “Island Nurse,” produced by Sue Hagedorn, premiered on the island and was subsequently shown on PBS.

Town reacts to interstate agreement

Published May 4

On April 29, Ferry Company Interstate Navigation received approval to increase rates for freight and passengers on its ferries.

The R.I. Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted to accept an agreement that allowed the ferry company to generate $579,388 in additional traditional ferry revenues. Along with a 34 percent increase in freight charges, there was an increase in truck charges, a slight increase in passenger ticket costs and a decrease in car charges.

It was the first ticket price increase for the company in five years and the first increase on freight tariffs in nine years. This change in rates created much debate on-island, with many island residents opposing the freight rate increase.

Mental Health and Drug Abuse Discussions Begin: Community looks for answers

Published May 11

Following the tragic and untimely death of a young person in the community, Gregor Smith, island residents began discussing how to address mental health and substance abuse on the island. Smith’s obituary said he had, “died of an overdose on April 18 in his father’s home on Old Town Road.”

At a meeting in May, 35 island residents gathered at the Harbor Church at the invitation of Rev. Stephen Hollaway.

The group wrestled with a wide range of topics, from the presence of heroin on the island, to prescription drug abuse, to mental illness, while also struggling to understand how the community might come up with solutions.

Gov. Chafee — Democrat — visits Block Island

Published June 1

During a short visit to Block Island on Wednesday, May 29, Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee also took a moment to address two island-centered issues: Deepwater Wind and the ferry rate increases.

Chafee’s visit came the day before he announced that he was switching his political affiliation to Democrat. He was previously an Independent.

While on Block Island, Chafee was welcomed warmly by the Block Island School, where he spent about an hour touring and reading a book to kindergartners and first graders — “Mr. MacGregor’s Breakfast Egg.” Chafee was on-island for a Regional Tourism Director’s monthly meeting.

Town Manager comes under Town Council scrutiny

First published June 29

The Town Council reviewed Town Manager Nancy Dodge’s job performance in a lengthy and controversial process.

The Town Council began reviewing Dodge’s job performance on June 27. She received mixed reviews. Two councilors, Sean McGarry and Chris Warfel, have been critical of Dodge. Councilor Norris Pike gave Dodge a highly favorable review, First Warden Kim Gaffett rated her favorably and Second Warden Ken Lacoste gave Dodge an average rating.

On Aug. 27, in a 5 to 0 vote, the council decided to keep Dodge in her role as Town Manager. But it took several more months to develop a contract for this role. The council approved a final contract in October.

New fast ferry proposed

First Published July 13

Rhode Island Fast Ferry, which runs high-speed ferries from Quonset Point to Martha’s Vineyard, applied to the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers to operate a new high-speed service to Block Island from Quonset Point, Rhode Island (in North Kingstown).

The application is still under review by the Division. However, Rhode Island Fast Ferry has no place to dock on Block Island, leaving the possibility of the service still up in the air if it is approved.

The application sparked public input from organizations both on and off the island. Ferry Company Interstate Navigation opposed the application, as did the Narragansett Chamber of Commerce. The Block Island Town Council voted to oppose the application on Sept. 18.

CRMC denies Champlin’s

Published Aug. 31

The Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) ruled on Aug. 26 that it had not engaged in “disparate treatment” or “selective enforcement” by denying an application from Champlin’s Marina for expansion, and subsequently approving an application from Payne’s Dock.

Champlin’s application requested an increase to its occupancy of the pond by approximately four acres, accommodating an additional 140 vessels — an application the CRMC denied on separate votes in 2006 and 2011.

#BlockIsland The island looks mostly positive on social media

Published Sept. 7

The Block Island Times took a look at four widely-used social networking sites, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook. According to posts on these sites, Block Island is a place almost everyone wants to visit, and where almost no one wants to leave.

Each day, dozens of people post on Twitter to comment about the island. Photos are posted every day on Instagram. There are mentions on Facebook, too, and many videos about the island posted on YouTube.

It’s unorganized and it isn’t always pretty, but the social networking that goes on about Block Island is a powerful, and ongoing, marketing tool.

Empire Theatre lives to move into the digital age

Published Sept. 7

A crowdfunding campaign to help purchase new digital projection equipment for the Empire Theatre reached its goal of raising $55,000.

This allowed Empire Theatre owner Gary Pollard to purchase a new digital projector for his movies. Because new movies will only be available in a digital format after the end of 2013, Pollard can contine showing movies.

However, Pollard’s search to show movies during the wintertime (the Empire is not heated) was unsuccessful. He approached several island venues, asking them if he could use their space, but none were suitable for this use.

Chamber looks at concerns facing island businesses

Published Sept. 21

According to a survey conducted by the Block Island Chamber of Commerce, the top three concerns facing island businesses are electric rates, inadequate internet service, and lack of tourist services.

The chamber formed three subcommittees comprised of its members with the goal of giving the island business community a stronger voice in addressing these issues.

Deepwater proposes cable landfall at Scarborough State Beach

Published Sept. 28

Deepwater Wind announced on Tuesday, Sept. 24, that it plans to install its electric transmission cable at Scarborough State Beach, located in Narragansett, R.I.

The State Properties Commission approved these plans in December.

Deepwater had originally planned to install the cable at Narragansett Town Beach, but withdrew those plans in August due to opposition from residents and the Narragansett Town Council. Deepwater Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski said that the company started seriously looking at the Scarborough Beach option around this same time.

UnitedHealthcare (temporarily) drops BIHS providers

Published Oct. 26

Insurance giant United Healthcare has reversed an earlier decision to drop Block Island Health Services from its roster of providers.

UnitedHealthcare of R.I. had terminated the ability of all four of the healthcare providers at the Block Island Health Center from participating in its Medicare Advantage plans. The announcement was made by Baldwin after she received word from UnitedHealthcare on Oct. 2.

Internet service ‘most important’ issue on the island

Published Nov. 9

The internet service on Block Island, said Town Councilor Norris Pike, is “the most important issue this community has.”

This is also what Town Information Technology (IT) Director Michele Spero said at a council work session on Nov. 6. How to do so, however, remains the challenge.

There are several town organizations working to improve the internet service on the island. The Block Island Residents Association formed a “Telecommunications Task Force” to address the issue, and the Chamber of Commerce also formed a subcommittee that will work to address inadequate internet service.

School Committee examines online learning

Published Nov. 27

For the last several years enrollment at the Block Island School has been declining and, as Superintendent Robert Hicks has explained at a number of School Committee meetings, the demographic outlook is for a further decline.

At the request of the School Committee, Hicks began a review of “grade organization” — or combining classes — and he indicated he has expanded his inquiry to include the use of technology.

On Dec. 5, a group of students, parents and teachers visited two schools in Providence that have incorporated online learning into their academic programs.

Council approves deer plan

Published Dec. 21

In a 3 to 0 vote, the Town Council approved a comprehensive plan on Dec. 18 to reduce Block Island’s deer.

The state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) plan, titled “Block Island Deer Reduction,” will involve a non-recreational hunt with a professional sharpshooting company called White Buffalo, Inc. The hunt is scheduled to take place in early Feb. 2014.

This has been the result of years of discussion. The Block Island Deer Task Force collaborated with the DEM and the R.I. Department of Health in a series of meetings to develop this plan. It is the first time there has been a comprehensive plan approved to reduce the deer herd on Block Island.

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