The Block Island Times

Town Council: Bill McKernan

By Stephanie Turaj | Oct 27, 2012

“You know how you just get attracted to a place?” asks Town Council candidate Bill McKernan (R). For him and his wife Rheba, that was Block Island. “We made so many friends here… things just fell into place.”

Despite being fairly new to the Block Island community, having resided here for seven years, McKernan’s island dedication is deep. He is a long-time visitor and is involved in many community-oriented activities.

In addition to serving on the Library Board and as Adjutant at Legion Post 36, he’s a been regular presence at almost every Town Council meeting the past few months, where he can be found in the audience, sitting, learning and sometimes participating, all the way until the end, even as the meetings last late into the evenings.

“My fresh perspective may help on the council,” he suggested, and adds that he’s willing to learn from other’s views and wants to encourage public input.

He even brings up three basic points taken from his role as audience member that he would like to implement if elected: visual aids during meetings (“I see people in the audience trying to follow along”), increased use of the microphone, and having everyone introduce themselves before speaking.

Deepwater, energy costs and


But beyond the basics, McKernan has many hopes and plans if chosen to serve as councilman. He says one of the biggest priorities for him is Deepwater Wind and making sure a cable to the mainland, along with Fiber Optic technology, happens whether or not Deepwater does.

“We can’t continue to pay fifty cents a kilowatt hour,” he said. “Can you imagine a family paying that cost for energy?”

He further notes that even if Deepwater does happen, the town needs to closely examine Block Island Power Company rates — and fully understand the relationship between the National Grid, BIPCo and Deepwater.

And McKernan’s past experience working for AT&T will provide valuable knowledge as the time of the cable’s installation grows near — he can delve deep into explaining the details of fiber-optic technology. He thinks the town must more aggressively lobby Verizon for better Internet quality. And, if the Deepwater cable comes in, they must reach out to other vendors, too.

“At AT&T… I used to handle accounts similar to [Block Island]. They all had fiber-optics,” he said. “They all have departments that deal with state and local… we have to go to them and say ‘What’s your plan?’ for us.”

“Everyone’s using it” on the mainland, he added. “It’s important for the kids in school, to make more bandwidth for education and distance learning, and the medical center even needs it.”

He notes that there are grants available to try to help rural areas get high-speed Internet, but “Rhode Island is not part of that. The representatives in Providence forget that we need that here.”

State representation, town budget and maintenance

McKernan — who as chair of the Block Island Republicans coordinated bringing over several Republican state candidates this election season — hopes to be able to vamp up Block Island’s presence upstate and “get the representatives closer to us.”

McKernan’s first taste of politics was back when he was a kid, as a native New Yorker in high school where he helped out with a friend’s campaign.

“Every party can have good ideas, and you’ve got to work well with people,” he said.

And he knows that Block Island has some really special people, such as those he works with on the library board, the friends and neighbors he’s met over the years and the great experiences many have had here (he refers specifically to a letter published in the Times recently about a worker from Moldova who has enjoyed years of work here).

“The real challenge is how to keep it that way,” he said, “to still keep the character, but how to do things like lower energy costs, provide more parking… we really have to look at the budget closely.”

He stresses the importance of reducing taxes to ease the pressure on island businesses, but the need to balance this with maintaining the school (“I think the school does a good job considering the difficult circumstances of being on an island”) and expanding the island’s building maintenance and public works projects.

Conservation and deer

McKernan’s a proponent of clearly defining the town’s beach access points, performing basic maintenance on access points such as brush cutting and putting up “Shoreline access point” signs.

To further conserve the habitat and reduce Lyme disease, he supports complete eradication of deer, which he notes are not an indigenous species to the island. He’s glad that hunting properties have been expanded already, and hopes the trend will continue, along with the help of island conservation groups.

“I think that we really have to try to protect Great Salt Pond,” he adds. “The immediate stakeholders are the residents and marina owners, but all the rest of us are stakeholders, too.” He explained that he wants to see the size of marinas limited and the mooring fields protected.

Overall, McKernan’s goal is to give back to the unique community that has given so much to him: “Living on Block Island is a dream come true,” he says. “ I hope to serve on the Town Council in order to help us remain special, conserve our land and deal with our challenges.”


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