Could the Black Hall River boat launch become ‘Central Park?’ »

OLD LYME – Concerns that the reopening of a kayak launch along the Black Hall River could turn the 3-acre site into ‘Central Park’ were aired at a Space Commission meeting on Monday open which continued the heated debate between several municipal councils on the fate of the property.

‘I don’t think it’s a park,’ Commission co-chairman Evan Griswold said after council voted to pay for an environmental assessment of the site off Buttonball Road before a final decision was made. on its future use. “It has to be as natural as possible. There’s a habitat there that I think, you know, we don’t need to turn into Central Park.

This comment during the remote video meeting prompted a quick response from Terri Lewis, vice-chairman of the Port Management Commission, which sparked debate when members recently proposed to reopen the long-dormant launch alongside a salt marsh.

“I feel like at the beginning of these conversations and even a little now that you are looking for something, anything, to not allow access to this property at all,” Lewis said, addressing his remarks specifically to Griswold and co-chair Amanda Blair, who lives next door to the site. “I just feel the vibe where you guys are from, Evan and Amanda personally because that’s all I hear right now is you really don’t want anybody there. I’m sure there is a way to get people in our city to see, let alone use, the property.

Griswold replied: ‘We are not opposed to public access and we just want to make sure that any public access is not detrimental to property. And that’s how we approach all of our properties, whether it’s 300 acres or three acres.

Blair, who had previously recused herself from any decision on the matter, reversed that decision on Tuesday after consulting with a lawyer.

“In a small town, there are so many overlapping interests,” Blair said, reading from the notes. “The standards are, do I have a financial advantage regarding this property, and the answer is no. I am not, and I am not connected with anyone who would benefit.

Blair said the house where she lives, which adjoins the open space, is owned by a family trust.

She also addressed the posting of “No Trespassing” signs at the entrance to the property, a long gravel driveway owned by the nearby Black Hall Club, which has granted easements to access the house and town for access the site in question.

Explaining that she did not post the signs herself, Blair said she bought them for the club “to deter constant acts of vandalism, ATV activity and trespassing”, on the property adjacent to the club, including a pond.

“As the panels were regularly torn down and I was going to Home Depot, I picked up both panels out of courtesy to my neighbor,” Blair said. “I have never denied public access to the property under review.”

Blair then voted with the rest of the council to request an environmental assessment of the property, as requested by the Board of Selectmen.

Open Space Commission member Greg Futoma responded to statements from Harbor Management Commission members and others that the launch site – sold by the McGowan family to the state in 1958, then ceded to the city in 2002 on the condition that it be used for recreational water access – had been effectively hidden away for decades until the Port Management Commission brought it to public attention.

“There were a lot of allegations that this property was hidden and a ‘secret’ quote and so on,” Futoma said. “I am in favor of home ownership. But our commission’s charter is pretty clear that we have to weigh public access against the impact on nature. And that’s not to say that access won’t be possible in this particular case, but we’re still doing it,” with the EA.

This study will determine the boundaries of the property, as well as the catalog of plant and animal species and the amount of wet soil on the site.

Griswold said he wanted to make sure reopening the launch wouldn’t endanger any endangered species and would be “even more disastrous for the salt marsh than what’s already happening,” with natural degradation.

He said the property is considered “critical habitat” for certain species by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

“It may not be, but we want to have an independent assessment of the qualities of its habitat,” he said. “One of the things I would be most interested in is making sure that whatever happens and whoever does it in town, is done correctly, is done with care and with the idea that we are protecting the natural world in a way that benefits everyone.

The commission plans to present its choice to the Selectman board of directors at its June 6 meeting.

Chris Staab, chair of the Harbor Management Commission, and Rachel Gaudio, chair of the Inland Wetlands Commission, asked on Monday that their advice be included in the process of selecting a contractor to carry out the assessment, while acknowledging the frictions between councils.

“I hope Open Space and the other commissions will cooperate and not work antagonistically,” said Staab, who said last week that residents could start using the launch immediately. “I look forward to working with all three commissions to open this space to the public and gain access for our residents.”

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