Council receives updates on a variety of island issues

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 6:15pm
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The New Shoreham Town Council received reports and requests from some of its advisory boards, commissions and committees at its work session on Oct. 2. Some topics discussed during the two-hour discussion were fortifying a section of Crescent Beach, the restoration of Nicholas Ball Park, affordable housing, signage enforcement, traffic congestion, the amount of taxis on the road, and culling the deer herd.

Dennis Heinz, a member of the Harbors Committee, said his committee felt the area of Crescent Beach in front of the Beachead Restaurant needs to be fortified with sand. During high tide people cannot walk the beach in that location, and Heinz said people have to travel over the dunes and down Corn Neck Road in order to traverse the area, adding to traffic issues.

“They walk on the road, because there’s no beach,” said Heinz, who noted that the Army Corps of Engineers could utilize its hydraulic pump to relocate sand, possibly from Old Harbor, to fortify the beach. “They could begin at The Surf Hotel and work down the beach from there.”

Heinz said he met with representatives from the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council and the Department of Environmental Management “on the mainland in the spring, and they thought that was a good idea, getting sand pumped up and onto the beach — because they are interested in keeping water off of Corn Neck Road.”

A tangential discussion ensued involving the dredging that the Army Corps periodically conducts utilizing the Currituck. The vessel dredges the Old Harbor and New Harbor channels, and then deposits the material offshore in deeper water.

“More important than dredging is building up the beach,” said Heinz. “There’s a lot of sand that can be pumped onto that beach, and it needs it.”

Councilor Chris Willi asked when the next round of dredging by the Army Corps was scheduled.

Town Manager Ed Roberge said he has had conversations with the Army Corps and “nothing was scheduled right now.” He said the Army Corps has taken samples of dredged material, and evaluated them for potentially conducting hydraulic dredging on the island.

Roberge said the Currituck’s dumping areas offshore “have been permitted. It takes an extensive study to look at other alternative dumping locations” for dredge or pumped material. He said the Army Corps would need to evaluate a beach dumping of material.

Roberge said the town would “keep in touch” with the Army Corps, “because we think there is great value in that. And, we need to dredge the harbor (anchorage in front of The National Hotel), because it hasn’t been done in quite a while.”

Margie Comings, Chair of the Old Harbor Task Force, told the council that restoration work on the $50,000 Nicholas Ball Park project was progressing. The park, which Harold “Turtle” Hatfield’s company Islandscape. Inc. is charged with renovating, is located in front of the Harbor Baptist Church.

Comings said the cedar fence on the property will be replaced by rope hung on wood posts like at Esta’s Park, “so people can get in and out of the park more easily.” She said there will be two sets of bicycle racks, more plantings installed, and a plaque at the corner of Spring Street and Water Street. The plaque will contain a brief history of Nicholas Ball II and the park, including photos of the old buildings that resided at that location.

“It looks great” so far, said Councilor Sven Risom.

Comings said the OHTF felt that greater attention and accommodation needs to be paid to garbage and cleanup in the Water Street area during the summer. The OHTF is suggesting new bins for garbage, which the group hopes the council considers for next year. She noted that she hadn’t spoken yet with Mike Shea, the superintendent of the Highways Department, about trash collection.

Millie McGinnes, a member of the Block Island Housing Board, told the council that the board was in the midst of the affordable housing lottery. Applications for the five affordable Cherry Hill Lane homes are due back on Oct. 15, and the lottery will be conducted on Oct. 17.

“It’s good to see this going. It’s been a long haul,” said Councilor Martha Ball, referencing the approximate decade-long timeline from conception to construction for the Cherry Hill Lane project.

McGinnes also said the Housing Board has purchased the O’Brien’s property for its next affordable housing project. “The lot is across the street from the Ball O’Brien Park,” she said, “between the cemetery and Nicholas Ball Housing. It is 1.92 acres” in size. 

Councilor Chris Willi brought up the importance of tracking an affordable housing inventory on the island, something that the board values. Roberge said the town was looking at various properties that might be of value to the affordable housing market on the island.

Bill Penn, Chair of the Historic District Commission, said there were three things the commission feels needs attention: (1) quorum issues, since the commission is short one board member; (2) a need to upgrade Water Street, including trash collection and signage; and (3) greater enforcement of signage violations in the district.

“Staffing a person to handle enforcement would make a major difference,” said Penn, not the outgoing/retiring Building Official, Marc Tillson, who he said has been overburdened with the task of enforcement.

Second Warden André Boudreau said the town will soon be hiring Tillson’s replacement, to which Roberge said the town is considering removing the signage role from the building official’s job description. As a result, he said the town could then hire a person to handle that specific role.

Members of the Commission on Motor Vehicles for Hire discussed traffic congestion, the need for traffic control personnel, and for more taxicabs on the road to serve the public need.

Heather Hatfield, Chair of the Deer Task Force, informed the council that the board “may have a shortfall” for managing its annual deer tail payment program. “There is $23,000 in the budget,” she said, noting that the group “needs donations.” One of the problems she said is that “we’re not getting a lot of off-island hunters” to participate in the program. “We need to lure more hunters out here.”