The Block Island Times
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Tourism hears complaints about public facilities

By Gloria S. Redlich | Sep 15, 2013

There have been several complaints sent to Block Island’s Tourism Director about the maintenance of town facilities, and these complaints generated concern from the Tourism Council at its Sept. 10 meeting.

Tourism Council Executive Director Jess Willi said she recently received an email from a summer visitor. In the email, the visitor chastised the community for failing to maintain its facilities. She wrote, “The public showers and bathrooms are a disgrace and the showers are inadequate!” Willi, who said she’d received a number of similar complaints, forwarded the note to Town Manager Nancy Dodge and First Warden Kim Gaffett.

Tourism member Steve Filippi expressed concern that the town did not seem “serious enough about keeping up with this; it is serious — the need to keep things clean. I think the town should sell beach passes — for two or five dollars — to offset the costs.”

Logan Mott Chase concurred that the group should take “a position on this issue; we need to provide some of the basic information on the problem.”

Shirley Kessler said, “This is a very important issue. We are talking about bringing in many people and yet the town is doing less … It is something that is reflective of the management of the town. I think we should send a letter to the Town Council.”

Martha Ball responded, “If people are going to fill up the sinks with sand, perhaps we don’t want them to come back.”

Agreeing it was an important issue, Tourism member John Cullen said, “This is nothing new; we’ve stood before the Town Council before … At the top level of our government we’re not doing enough to take care of the island.”

In fact, Cullen pointed out another related concern. He noted that recently he’d taken pictures of the trash cans lining Water Street, the conditions of which, he said, were disastrous.

“I work in town, on Water Street, and it bothered me enough to take pictures. I feel something has to be done; the garbage cans are filthy and [smell terrible]. We’re this green place, but we make no effort at being ‘green’; nothing’s recycled here.”

He said, “We need to have new and attractive cans here and we need something for recycling.” As to the Welcome Center bathrooms, Cullen said the toilets were often backed up. He added there was “graffiti on the trash cans and cigarette butts everywhere. What kind of a message are we sending to our visitors and residents? When people come to the visitor center, the first thing they see is garbage.”

Chamber of Commerce Director Kathy Szabo said that the garbage was emptied each morning, but admitted the ongoing problem was one she didn’t know how to keep up with. Town Manager Nancy Dodge thought it might be good to educate the public that the island needed them to “help us take care of this.” Cullen agreed that educational messages might be a positive step.

Dodge added that perhaps a concerted effort on the part of the town and the business community might help. She added, “We’re talking about an awful lot of people coming and about budget restraints every year.”

Tourism President Zena Clark suggested the council needed to brainstorm with other groups within the community such as the Old Harbor Task Force. She advocated creating “an organized list of issues to bring to the Town Council.” Filippi repeated his earlier suggestion: “If we charged people for the beach, we’d have the money to take care of these things.”

Vote to support Quonset ferry

In an effort to garner support from the Block Island Tourism Council for a new ferry service from Quonset Point to the island, Rhode Island Fast Ferry owner Charles Donadio addressed council members at its Sept. 10 meeting.

In making his appeal, Donadio stressed two points: first, a Quonset run would bring the island direct connections from the state airport and from other mass transit services; second, it could help the town establish its own dock space, if the town chooses to build a new dock to accommodate this ferry service.

John Cullen said, “I’m inclined to be interested in the town controlling our own dock. The idea is attractive, but we’d have to look at upfront costs.”

Concerned that one-day ferry runs would not go back too early, Steve Filippi said, “We want ferry service to go back later, unlike the Newport one, which leaves the island around five. We want people to stay to have dinner here.”

Donadio said he would want to work with the community to accommodate its needs, but would have to see the demand first.

“As a council, shouldn’t we advocate? That is, do we want to take a position on this? Personally, I think we should decide,” said Filippi. The application for the new ferry service is currently before the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers.

With members concurring that the new ferry didn’t seem to pose “any negative impacts on island tourism,” Filippi made a motion “to support the concept of a new ferry from Quonset. “ The council unanimously approved this motion, with President Zena Clark and member Logan Mott Chase recused because they have family members that work for ferry company Interstate Navigation. The Tourism Council will send a letter of support to the New Shoreham Town Council.

A Sept. 17 meeting of the Chamber of Commerce is scheduled, with a plan to discuss the ten most prominent business issues within the community. The next regular meeting of the Tourism Council is scheduled for Sept. 24 at 9 a.m. and a joint meeting of both groups is scheduled Oct.1 at 5:30 p.m. at the 1661 Inn.

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