6/09/2011 — 

Mr. President, I am pleased to rise today along with my colleague, Senator Whitehouse, to help mark the 350th anniversary of the settlement of Block Island, RI.

   Block Island sits 12 miles south of coastal Rhode Island, and for over three centuries has contributed to the economic and ecological vitality of my home State. It has a rich history.

   In 1614, the Dutch merchant and explorer Adriaen Block charted the Island, which is named for him.

   In 1661 colonists from Massachusetts sailed to Block Island and established a community that would later become the town of New Shoreham.

   During the Revolutionary War, Block Islanders warned American soldiers of approaching British ships by lighting fires on Beacon Hill, the island's highest point. And, over the past 200 years, Block Island has constructed two lighthouses that have provided safe passage for countless sailors and travelers.

   Today, Block Island is home to over 1,000 permanent residents and welcomes up to 20,000 visitors each day during tourist season.

   Block Island has been graced by visits by two sitting Presidents--President Ulysses S. Grant in 1875 and in 1999 by President William Jefferson Clinton. I was pleased to have guided President Clinton as well as First Lady Hillary Clinton, who is now Secretary of State, around the Mohegan Bluffs and the historic Southeast Lighthouse, which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean, during their visit.

   Throughout the years, the local community has worked hard to preserve the Island's natural beauty and landmarks. In the 1980s and early 1990s Captain John R. Lewis, a Block Island resident known to all as Rob, spearheaded a campaign to save the Southeast Lighthouse, which was threatened by an eroding shoreline. With a coalition of friends and local residents, Rob worked to secure nearly $1 million in Federal funding and he persuaded Block Islanders to help raise $270,000 through donations.

   I must also applaud the efforts of John Chafee and Claiborne Pell, my predecessors--particularly Senator Chafee--who worked hard to ensure support for the movement of the Southeast Lighthouse. Their efforts, in conjunction with Federal and State leaders, saved this historic landmark, which still stands today.

   Over 40 percent of the Island is now preserved land. The Island boasts dramatic bluffs, pristine beaches, and 25 miles of public hiking trails. Over 40 kinds of endangered species call Block Island home and thousands of migratory birds pass through each year making this a truly exceptional place.

   Indeed, Block Island was included on the Nature Conservancy's list of ``Last Great Places.'' This honor identifies sites in the Western Hemisphere with significant biodiversity and ecosystems with rare or endangered species.

   Block Island is not only unique for its rich history; it also has a beautiful landscape.

   Generations of Block Islanders have preserved what the Narragansett Indian tribe called ``God's Little Island.'' As we celebrate the 350th anniversary of Block Island's settlement, it is fitting that we recognize and congratulate Block Islanders for all of their efforts to preserve one of our country's most treasured places.