Town reps to meet with DEM on cull invoicesAnother issue flares up
First Warden Kim Gaffett announced at the Monday, March 3, meeting of the Town Council that a small contingent from Block Island, which will include herself, Town Manager Nancy Dodge and town solicitor Kathy Merolla, are scheduled to meet with representatives from the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) on Thursday, March 13, on the mainland.
The meeting, Gaffett said, is to “talk about what some of the issues are, including what is owed to date on the aborted deer culling project.” Gaffett said that high level DEM officials would be at that meeting, including Director Janet Coit, Cathy Sparks, and the DEM legal counsel, Mary Kay.
“I know people want to know what it is going to cost, but I can’t tell you,” said Gaffett. The amount that has been previously published, $12,000 to $15,000 is going to be “disputed,” she said.
“I don’t see anything in the contract that calls for payment if deer haven’t been culled,” said island resident Chris Blane. He said the contract clearly calls for “invoices to be paid at the end of the project. They cancelled — not the town. The town lived up to all its expectations. There’s nothing in the contract that says they should get paid. Not one deer was culled.”
A question from another island resident, Doug Michel, during the meeting, — “Are they still baiting?” — stirred up another minor controversy. The “they” in the question was White Buffalo, the non-profit company hired by the DEM to reduce the deer herd on Block Island.
The answer from Gaffett may have been equally as direct — “Yes,” she said — but that answer also sowed some confusion because two questions quickly rose.
“How is White Buffalo allowed to bait even on private property?” asked Councilor Chris Warfel. “You’re not allowed to bait deer.”
“Who is paying for it,” asked Blane. “I doubt they [White Buffalo] are doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. To me it seems ridiculous to be putting bait out.”
Blane also addressed a question directly to the council: “If you are baiting, why not announce it to the public? You have to do a better job of letting people know.”
“They’re baiting on properties where they had permission. It’s for research purposes at their own expense. I think they’re done now,” Gaffett said Monday night.
Even later she reiterated: “I’ve been told they aren’t going to charge for the time they’re putting down the corn.” She also said, in respinse to Warfel’s question, that she would look into whether or not baiting could take place.
The issue signaled continued issues for a deer culling that never even happened, at least in the minds of some. White Buffalo asked to postpone the cull just days before the start date of Feb. 24, and the council voted formally to delay it until the next hunting season, but this was after they had baited some areas of the island and also after the DEM announced that White Buffalo sharpshooters would not be allowed to use suppressors, which are illegal in Rhode Island. It was then announced that the town of New Shoreham may be on the hook for anywhere between $12,000 and $15,000 for the cull, even though it never took place.
Blane and another island resident, John Willis, said they had encountered a truck with three occupants who were described as representatives of White Buffalo, the Department of Environmental Management and the Nature Conservancy. Blane and Willis both said they had approached the occupants. Willis said they were not “too agreeable to talk” to him and said he “chased them but they got away.” Gaffett said that could be construed as “harassment.”
It was Blane who then started another discussion about how many deer there are on the island. While some estimates have given the total figure above 1,000, Blane said there were “no more than 300 to 400 deer on the island” and added that there were “250 less deer than there were at the opening of hunting season.”
It was at this point that Second Warden Ken Lacoste said that a total of 299 deer tags had been issued — meaning that there are 299 confirmed deer killings. “The number is more like 350 less deer if you count the winter kills,” said Lacoste, meaning those deer that have died due to weather, starvation or vehicular accident.
That was the moment when Michel asked about the deer baiting.
Gaffett also announced that the New Shoreham police department would be taking down the hunting signs in public areas, such as Black Rock and Rodman’s Hollow, where the deer culling was to take place.
Hunter harrassment ordinance
The council unanimously passed a local ordinance that would prevent the harassment of hunters, trappers and fishers. “It shall be unlawful for any person to obstruct or interfere with the lawful taking of wildlife by another person within the boundaries of the town at the location where the activity is taking place with intent to prevent the lawful taking.”
Island resident Sam Bird asked if the ordinance was “a response to some instances or is this pre-emptive?”
Gaffett called the measure “pre-emptive” but added there have been some instances of hunter harassment in the past. She also mentioned the ordinance had been drafted “because of people who may try to interfere with the cull.
“I’d like to see the council pass this in a local form rather than have the DEM enforce it,” Blane said.
Island-wide notification service
Sandra Kelly, a member of the Senior Advisory Committee, asked the council to give their blessing to a plan that would implement an island-wide notification service in case of an emergency. The council approved a motion that supported the concept and which instructed Town Manager Nancy Dodge to proceed with the plan with input from the Chief of Police to make it happen.
After having researched the matter for several months, Kelly said the group was recommending a company called TRZ, which offers a service called NotifyNOW. Literature provided by Kelly said the service “is a broadcast voice service designed for small towns and villages that do not have a dedicated radio or TV station serving their geographic area. It is used to communicate emergency and informational messages to every citizen in a matter of minutes via phone, email and text.” The service is currently used for announcements concerning the Block Island School.
Kelly said an emergency notification could be sent out because of a weather event, Amber or Silver alert (Silver Alert is the search for a missing person who have a cognitive impairment, such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia), an emergency at the Great Salt Pond or other island-based disasters.
“We feel it’s some way to notify the community,” Kelly said.
According to island resident Sean McGarry, who was in the audience, TRZ charges $1.50 per student, but there was some speculation that the cost for the entire island population might be lower. Kelly was also asked who would maintain and update the database of names in the system. Kelly said they were both good questions and would get back to the council on that.
Lacoste said that he hoped the service could divide the population into sub-categories, which would prevent everyone from receiving notices about events that may not be useful, such as individuals receiving information about school closings when they don’t have children enrolled in the local school.