OLD LYME – The multi-pronged battle over a kayak launch on Buttonball Road reached an apparent ceasefire at Monday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, where three town councils agreed to form a joint committee designed to ease tensions over the use and control of the 3-acre property along the Black Hall River.
“I think we have to get the groups to cooperate and people kind of did things separately,” first coach Tim Griswold said of the Open Space, Harbor Management and Inland Wetlands commissions. “I still feel the friction and all that and I think we need to get to the point where we’re moving in a step-by-step direction.”
Griswold’s comments came after a lengthy discussion about which council should have jurisdiction over the long-dormant launch site, sold by the McGowan family to the state in 1958 and then deeded to the city in 2002 provided it is used for recreational water. to access.
It is now under the control of the Open Space Commission, whose co-chair Amanda Blair lives next door and has expressed reservations about reopening it for public use.
This led to claims that the property was effectively kept secret for decades until the Port Management Commission brought it to public attention earlier this year.
“When it’s the property next to the co-chair of Open Space that has been actively hidden with ‘No Trespassing’ signs, it doesn’t look good on the optics,” the board chair said. Inland Wetlands, Rachel Gaudio, at the meeting, adding that public access to the launch has been “impeded for over 20 years”.
Blair did not attend the meeting.
Its co-chair, Evan Griswold, acknowledged on Monday that the site “was kind of a sleeper” for many years.
He also said he feared the dispute between the three councils would set a precedent that if the commission acquires future properties, “another commission in town can come in and say, well, we want something else.”
Still, he said he was in favor of reopening the launch despite his view that it offers “marginal, at best” water access for kayaks and canoes due to tidal issues and that it may contain endangered plant and animal species.
“I have no problem with people accessing this property,” he said.
Members of the three councils agreed to form a working group made up of two members from each commission that would oversee a third-party environmental review of the site before any further action was taken – including an appointment by elected councilors who would control.
“I think before they spend any money, the commissions and the city need to know who has jurisdiction over this property,” Gaudio said, adding that the dispute has created “animosity” among councils.
Michael Presti, a member of the Port Management Commission, presented the selectors with a proposal to open the property in phases after a study was carried out.
Removal of underbrush and improvement of the gravel driveway leading to the water where boats could be set would be followed by the installation of signs, a wooden boundary fence and clearing parking space for up to ten cars, he said.
The final phase, if approved by state environmental officials, would be to erect a low platform over a short section of salt marsh to facilitate the launching of non-motorized boats.
“This will ensure that the property will return to service as planned after being idle for so long,” Presti said.
Another persistent issue raised at the meeting was the ‘No Trespassing’ signs posted on the trees at the entrance to the Buttonball Road site.
The driveway and adjoining property are owned by the neighboring Black Hall Club, which has granted easements giving the town and Blair access to the interior property.
Blair said she bought the club signs earlier this year to prevent trespassers from partying and littering club property.
Last month, the Port Management Commission requested that the signs be rotated so that they did not give the impression that residents were prohibited from using the driveway.
“They always face the road when you enter,” Shoemaker said Monday.
Coach Griswold said his office would contact the club to adjust the panels.
Shoemaker also stressed that addressing communication and transparency issues between councils is key to reaching agreement on how to proceed.
“As a former teacher,” she said, “I would like you all to play together in the sandbox nicely with each other.”