Here’s a phrase that we hear often enough: Block Island is unique. But Block Island is unique and one of the reasons for that is due to the deep feeling of ownership that many have for this place. Very few communities have a population as deeply committed to it as islanders are to their home, and that at times is the root cause for vigorous disagreement.
Look at the impassioned emotions that surround the Deepwater Wind project and the Department of Environmental Management’s deer culling proposal.
Each of these issues actually have something in common, which in turn directly informs how locals are reacting to them: they are proposals being made or controlled by organizations and people who do not, for the most part, live here. Given that there is such a deep sense of ownership of the island — it is ours — some of the negative reaction is due to the feeling that these outside entities are ignoring our needs, our desires.
Well, some of that is true, and that is why we wish the Department of Environmental Management had taken a little more time to get to know this place. If they had done so a lot of the hoopla surrounding the now-aborted deer cull could have been avoided. It may have even happened.
When we spoke to Catherine Sparks of the DEM this past week, she expressed surprise that the continued setting of bait by White Buffalo, the company contracted to reduce the deer herd, was somewhat controversial. (We say somewhat because the number of people upset about it appears to be miniscule.)
However small those numbers may be, it would have been simple professional courtesy for the DEM (or White Buffalo), to let all of us know that they were conducting a research project on how the deer were reacting to the corn meal that was being put out for bait. The bait had already been set without notifying the police at the beginning of the project, and as we know some of the earlier spots chosen for setting the bait made some people uncomfortable. That made a headline and emotions were running high.
It didn’t help, frankly, that the leadership team from the local Deer Task Force, which had spent many months putting this delicate project together, was gone from the island just as this project was due to start. Perhaps this was unavoidable, but a point-person should have been chosen to work with White Buffalo and the DEM to make sure that every possible island protocol and courtesy was followed. One of the reasons why this fell apart this year was because those who opposed the project began to control the narrative just after the contract with White Buffalo was signed.
One more thing, a group of three, First Warden Kim Gaffett, Town Manager Nancy Dodge and town solicitor Kathy Merolla, are meeting with the DEM on March 13 to discuss, in part, the $12,000 to $15,000 that the town supposedly owes for work done on the deer cull, despite the fact that it never took place.
In our opinion, the only acceptable outcomes to that meeting are: the DEM foots the bill or the invoices are waived. That’s it.