“Conservation is more than just land preservation”

Sun, 01/23/2022 - 7:00am

Kim Gaffett attended the latest Block Island Land Trust meeting with a plea for the conservation groups to get involved with the acquisition of an electric vehicle charging station for the island.
A proposal has been made by resident William Young to partially fund the purchase of a level-three charging station. He has appeared at meetings of the Block Island Utility District to pitch his proposal, which on the face of it appeared simple, but quickly became more complicated. If the charger was simply given to the power company to own, BIPCo would need to apply to the R.I. Division of Public Utilities and Carriers for a new tariff for the charger. And, part of the proposal from Young was to share any profits with local non-profit organizations. The problem? BIPCo is a non-profit and not allowed to make excess money on the sale of electricity, so there wouldn’t be any profits to share.

A work-around was arrived at whereby the not-for-profit Block Island Solar Initiative could own the charger and simply buy the power from BIPCo and distribute any excess revenues as it sees fit.

Young had offered to fund up to 50 percent of the charger’s approximately $30,000 cost and is seeking donations from others for the balance. A level-three charger can charge two cars at a time, each in about 45 minutes, unlike an at-home charger that may take overnight.

There is a need, with BIPCo President Jeffery Wright telling the utility district board of commissioners recently that he had received many calls over the summer from visitors looking for a charging station on the island.

Gaffett, who works for The Nature Conservancy, said that Young wanted the conservation groups to promote the idea of the charger and to “do what we can to make it feasible for people to have electric cars.” She added that it could “make a statement that conservation is more than just land preservation,” and that the response to her outreach has been positive “so far.”
Land Trust Chair Barbara MacMullan, who is also the chair of the utility district, said she would like to support it but wants to make sure that the Land Trust can make a donation legally.
“If we’re allowed, I’d be for it,” said Treasurer Wendy Crawford.

Others had the same feeling, and recognizing that the need is out there, were thinking about other areas where chargers could be installed. The one currently proposed would be at the power company. MacMullan said Land Trust member Harold “Turtle” Hatfield had raised the idea of putting one at the Solviken Property.
Other suggestions have included the Fred Benson Town Beach parking lot, and Crawford said it would be “interesting to see how the weather affects the stations. It might be tricky at Solviken and the beach.”

It also might be tricky at the Historic District Commission and Zoning Board as neither have had to consider the matter before.

Trail safety

Nigel Grindley, who heads up stewardship efforts for the Block Island Conservancy, asked for trail safety to be on the Land Trust’s agenda. The Land Trust, BIC, and The Nature Conservancy work together in the acquisition and maintenance of many of Block Island’s hiking, or Greenway Trails.
“I brought this up because as a walker,” said Grindley, “a lot of trails have some hazardous places.”

He suggested compiling a list of problematic areas on the trails and perhaps “tackle two to three at a time.”

Sometimes the problems arise from erosion. “Many of the trails are not designed with rain in mind,” said Grindley. “They go straight down.”
“I agree with everything Nigel’s saying,” said Associate State Director of The Nature Conservancy Scott Comings. “When we cut trails we never envisioned so many people would be using them.”

Whether that’s due to Covid or other factors like the Block Island Glass Float Project, or both, Comings suggested that a list could be made to identify “low-hanging fruit” that can be dealt with easily, and form a subcommittee made up of representatives from all the groups to tackle other problems.
Grindley was concerned about lack of expertise. “Do we have anyone with experience – people who think about slopes and drainage?”
Comings assured him that The Nature Conservancy had resources and could bring in an “on-staff” conservation engineer. The hard part is, said Comings: “We have to figure out how to shut down certain trails.”