PROVIDENCE — The draft versions of new state Senate district maps pose an obvious question for Senator Alana DiMario: Does she know the Block Island ferry schedule?
“I’m going to have to learn the ferry schedule real quick, or find a lot of friends with boats,” DiMario told the Globe.
DiMario, a Narragansett Democrat, has never represented Block Island before, but both new versions of the district she represents would include the 9.7-square-mile island, which constitutes the town of New Shoreham.
On Thursday night, the state redistricting commission unveiled draft versions of new House and Senate district maps, which will change the state’s political boundaries based on new census data, and those proposals contained some surprises, including the possibility of shifting Block Island to a new Senate district.
Senate District 36 now includes the eastern portion of North Kingstown and the northern part of Narragansett. But the new maps would stretch the district farther south along the coastline, taking in Narragansett Town Beach and Point Judith – and reaching across a stretch of ocean to embrace Block Island.
DiMario said she knew the district would change since Narragansett lost population in the latest census count. (Narragansett’s population dropped 8.4 percent, the largest proportional drop of any town in the state). But she said she didn’t expect the district to gain a whole island. “I was surprised by that,” she said.
Still, DiMario said, “It’s not unwelcome – not at all.” She noted she already represents a stretch of the South County shoreline, and she said the new parts of the district, including Block Island, face similar issues, such as climate change, marine industries, and other coastal issues.
“I can see the focus on keeping communities of interest together,” she said. “I can see how it would be helpful to have the Port of Galilee and Block Island in the same district, up the coast through Quonset.”
DiMario said she will not object to the proposed district map. “I firmly believe legislators don’t pick their voters, so I’m happy to do my best to represent whatever district I end up in, and I think I can do a really good job,” she said. “A few extra tips to the island won’t make me sad.”
But she added that she does want to hear what Senator V. Susan Sosnowski thinks of the new maps.
Sosnowski, a South Kingstown Democrat who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, said she has represented Block Island since she first became a senator in 1997.
“I have worked real hard with the folks on the island to get so many things done,” she said. For example, she noted that she introduced legislation that led to the nation’s first commercial wind farm off the coast of Block Island.
But Sosnowski, who represents Senate District 37, said she knows the population of South Kingstown grew in the latest census count (by 4.2 percent), and she realized her district needed to shed voters.
She said it would not make sense to carve up South Kingstown into different districts, but she said it does make sense to keep Point Judith and Block Island in the same district as “communities of interest.” She noted, for example, that the Block Island ferry leaves from Point Judith, and New York and Connecticut residents have been buying property in both Narragansett and Block Island.
“I would love to continue to represent Block Island, but with the population increasing, something has to happen,” Sosnowski said. “It is bittersweet. It tugs at my heartstrings. But it is what it is, and we have to do what’s best for the future in the district.”
She noted the redistricting commission will be gathering public input about the proposed maps in the next few weeks. “We will see what people say,” she said.
The redistricting commission is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Monday at Smithfield High School. The agenda includes a presentation by the state’s redistricting consultant, Kimball W. Brace, regarding the reallocation of prisoners, the initial House and Senate maps, and the remaining timeline for the redistricting process. Public comment will then be accepted.