Beginning June 15, a field comprising a dozen buoys, designating a “no-anchor zone,” will flank an exposed section of the National Grid sea2shore cable located off Town Beach, a move approved by the Town Council as a temporary solution until National Grid can address the cable situation more directly in the fall. The “no-anchor zone” will not directly address or fix the cable burial depth, it will simply keep boaters away from the cable while it remains exposed throughout the summer season. Grid said the two most seaward buoys will be lighted.
“Our recent surveys have indicated there was a small area off Crescent Beach, approximately 200 to 250 feet seaward of the low-water mark, where we detected seasonal changes in the depth of the sediments that cover the cable,” said Jackie Barry, Director of Strategic Communications for National Grid. “We are working with the town and the agencies to develop a permanent solution to protect the cable. Additional details about that work will be shared when they have been agreed upon.”
National Grid’s survey was completed on May 15, revealing nearly zero coverage of the cable in an area about 200 feet from the Town Beach. Grid first encountered hard seabed in 2016, causing the cable to be buried at a shallower depth than planned; which was two to three feet deep instead of the requisite four to six feet. In the spring of 2017, Grid installed a protective sleeve around an 80-foot section of the cable, while noting that it would need future monitoring.
As a result, the Town Council voted unanimously (5-0) at Monday’s meeting to accept Town Manager Ed Roberge’s recommendation for near-term mitigation: a no-anchor zone with buoys separated by about 100 feet, and protective sleeve work to begin on Oct. 9 for a 20-day period.
Roberge’s report is based on recommendations from National Grid.
New Shoreham town officials are also deliberating the potential “community impact” while the “no-anchor zone” is in place in order to determine possible easement use fees for its negotiations with National Grid. In his report, Roberge stated that in 2016 when Grid’s “project completion dates were extended,” and the sleeve was added, the Town Council considered the monetary impact of completing that work during shoulder and high seasons. The town received $90,000 from National Grid in 2016 for the completion deadline extension.
At the Council’s June 4 meeting, members of the community, as well as the Council, voiced their concerns, and displeasure with National Grid over the repercussions associated with the cable depth issue.
In regard to the installation of the protective sleeve in the fall, Councilor Sven Risom cut to the chase, addressing a question to Roberge: “What is your confidence that this will actually fix the problem? They tried to bury it once. Is there any level of confidence that this is actually going to fix it?”
“This is not a permanent fix,” said Roberge. “There is a cover issue. That cable needs to be relocated. It’s as simple as that. They did not get their designed depth (of four to six feet), and they need to. This is an issue that was identified as a concern at the beach.”
“Just to be clear, this is the National Grid cable we’re talking about,” said First Warden Ken Lacoste, “and not Deepwater Wind’s (export cable). The Deepwater cable is maintained at appropriate depth.” National Grid’s cable connects the island, or the Block Island Power Company, to the mainland, while Deepwater Wind’s cable links the island, or BIPCo, to the Block Island Wind Farm.
Risom then raised the million-dollar question: “So, we go through all of this, we deal with all of this, and get the plastic shield in October — are we going to be back here in a year?”
“We potentially could be,” said Roberge, “because we’ve been assured by the (Rhode Island) Coastal Resources Management Council that ongoing, monthly surveys will be completed. We want to understand what the beach is doing.” Roberge said the town would continue to monitor the cable depth.
“I guess what I hear is that we’re putting a Band-Aid on a pretty bad sore, and we’re going to be back here talking about this in a year,” said Risom. “I don’t see that they’re fixing the problem. Is there a way to throw the ball back, and say move, or dig deeper — fix it?”
In response, Roberge said, “I do believe we’ll be back.” He noted that once the protective sleeve is attached the no-anchor zone would be removed.
Resident Doug Michel said he had concerns about how the “no-anchor zone” would be enforced. “I don’t know how you are going to stop boats and jet skis from traversing that area,” he said, while also noting that, “Isn’t there some way you can shake National Grid’s tree? They went through how many feet of bedrock at Scarborough Beach in Narragansett? They can’t go through the sand here?”
“I think Ed’s attached to the tree as we speak — he’s doing some shaking,” said Lacoste.
“Give him a chainsaw,” quipped Michel, which drew laughter from the packed Town Council chambers. The mood changed when he said, “I think we’re getting the short end of the stick here.”
Lacoste said the concern about the no-anchor zone involves large vessels dragging their anchors, and not boats traversing through the buoy area.
Resident David Lewis said the way to get National Grid’s attention is to impose “a social impact fee. We want to discourage this happening every year for the next six years until they get it right. You do that with a dollar amount that imposes a penalty.”
“And with better engineering,” said Lacoste.
Facilities Manager Sam Bird informed the Council that National Grid’s work in the fall would be completed without any power outages, as BIPCo would switch to backup generation.
National Grid will also have to anchor a barge off the town beach to install the protective sleeve over the exposed section of cable.
In other news, the Town Council voted 3-to-2 to have the Town Manager explore locations at the south end of the Great Salt Pond for relocating the Harbormaster’s office. Councilors Risom and Chris Willi dissented.
The current Harbormaster’s office is dilapidated. Council members seemed to agree with Harbormaster Steve Land who suggested that a suitable location for the office would be at Champlin’s Marina. The town has been engaged in ongoing litigation involving the Champlin’s Marina expansion since 2003.
“Champlin’s Marina would be an ideal location, if only for the year, until a better solution comes along,” said Lacoste.
“I think that Champlin’s is the best site,” said Councilor Martha Ball. “I don’t see how this would impact the lawsuit.”
Second Warden André Boudreau said he thought that Champlin’s was the “best option we have right now.”
Land Trust Chair Barbara MacMullan said that her board would be open to letting the town use the K and H strip of land they own near the Block Island Boat Basin in New Harbor temporarily for the office.
The next Town Council meeting is Wednesday, June 20 at 7 p.m.