Harbors Committee looks back, looks ahead

Wed, 11/27/2019 - 5:00pm

On Thursday, Nov. 21 the Harbors Committee finally had an opportunity to look back on the summer boating scene. It was the first time since mid-May that the committee has mustered a quorum – a point of contention for some members who regularly travel from the mainland to attend meetings.

Looking back is also a starting point to looking forward to what can be improved upon for 2020. In his report from the chairman, Denny Heinz first brought up the influx of sand into areas of Old Harbor, which he said was now on top of the breakwater. “That’s how much sand has come in there,” he said, adding that much of the problem was caused by nor’easters.

Heinz’s suggestion was to dredge the harbor and dump the resulting sand along the beach starting behind The Surf and moving north. “It hasn’t been done in a long time,” he said, explaining that the Army Corps of Engineers only dredges the channel, and not the area in front of The National Hotel.

Kate McConville, harbors clerk and assistant to Harbormaster Steve Land, said that Land occasionally has contractor Bain Transue “go in with a back-hoe, but he can only get so far.”

Turning to New Harbor, Heinz asked, “What was the result of drone counts?”

McConville presented the numbers of boats counted over the summer, particularly during the busiest times. Upon being asked what was counted, she replied “moorings, anchorage and marinas.”

Member Charles Gustafson said that estimating the number of people per boat could be used to assess the economic impact of visiting boaters to Block Island.

Carl Kaufmann said “We were figuring 2.5 people per boat.”

Heinz felt that separating out the number of boats staying at marinas would be helpful, which led to the next item of discussion – pump outs performed at marinas.

Although by law, marinas are supposed to provide their own pump-out services, the Harbors Department had been performing that service for them for free for many years. After much study, this year, with the Town Council’s approval, a new policy was adopted whereby the marinas would be charged five dollars per boat pumped out at their docks.

McConville reported that, to date, Champlins Marina and the New Harbor Boat Basin had paid the fees, which came out to less than Land had anticipated at about $3,000 per marina, but Payne’s Dock had not.

“Champlins takes a lot of time,” said Committee member Pat Evans, who also works on a Harbors Department pump-out boat during the summer. “There’s a lot of boats, and a lot of gallonage.”

Unlike acting on the pump-out fees, the Committee noted that the Town Council had not acted on its proposal to prohibit the winter storage of docks at Rat Island, and that Payne’s Dock had already moved its docks there this fall. The four committee members present voted unanimously to ask the Town Council to “make a decision” on their recommendation.

During the summer of 2018 the Harbors Department was forced to operate out of Town Hall instead of its “shack” at the Boat Basin. Due to changes in management at the marina, the Harbors staff was back in their shack last summer.

“The new management loved having us on the property,” said McConville. “The public loved it. It worked out great.”

The public also liked the new dinghy dock, first used in 2018. “I got many compliments on it,” said Kaufmann. “People love it.”

The committee noted, with approval, the installation of a water spigot near the dinghy dock as part of the sidewalk installation along West Side Road.

Kaufmann asked if there was enough “flow” for use by the fire department should there be a fire. “We have no fire boat,” he said.

Others, not knowing exactly where fire hydrants were located in the area, thought it was a good idea to look into the matter.

Another suggested improvement was to place bike racks somewhere near the dinghy dock. As for the location, the area near the Dumpster that is located by the public boat ramp next to the Block Island Maritime Institute was suggested.

“How’s the Dumpster working out?” asked Evans. “One thing I noticed was the size,” which he thought was actually too big. He said that the Dumpster has a side door for people to put their trash in, but that because the trash is placed near the door, the Dumpster appears to fill up long before it actually has. There were also problems getting to the top. “It’s not being used to its full capacity.”

“Maybe we can talk them into putting two of them side by side,” said Kaufmann.

A smaller one would be “more user-friendly,” said Evans.

Heinz said he had actually seen a refrigerator left in the Dumpster.

In the end, it was decided to ask the town to build three bike racks – two for near the dinghy dock, and one for by the harbors shack.

Another area of concern for the committee was the status of the new Harbor Management Plan. With the leaving of Town Manager Ed Roberge, they felt it was important to get a list of what specific things need to be done to make it complete.

“What are the issues, and what can we do to help?” asked Gustafson, who noted that the current plan is 20 years old.