The Canadian humorist and historian Stephen Leacock, in one the most quoted passages from “Gertrude the Governess” published in Leacock’s Nonsense Novels recounts the folly of Lord Ronald, who faced with the unhappy prospect of an arranged marriage, “flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.”
For the reader it’s funny, because the Ronald’s choice of action defies the obvious solution: to prioritize and focus. In my view, the manner in which the Old Lyme Board of Selectmen conducts town business similarly eludes such logic.
I think that most Old Lyme residents regardless of political affiliation agree on a few clear priorities: resolving the sewer situation for the shoreline, spending the town’s money wisely, obtaining public support before initiatives are undertaken by the town, executing town projects efficiently and in a timely manner, and maintaining the character of Old Lyme.
But in recent years, the town has hopscotched from major initiative to major initiative, without substantive public support, without deliberate consideration of alternatives, and without a defined timetable for deadlines and accomplishments. From sewering the entire shoreline, to street improvements on Hartford Avenue, to renovating Hains Park to merging our police force with East Lyme to promoting high-density residential development at the first and busiest corner in Old Lyme, there has been a major lack of focus. The result has been too few solid accomplishments among the shared public priorities at hand.
In the case of sewers, the town leapt ahead of a major state initiative to identify and prioritize sewers along the shoreline, and without studies to identify deficient areas, instead pushed forward a goal of sewering all beaches to a community septic system. After spending close to $200,000 on a plan that was later rejected by the state, (the town is required by law to file a plan which can be approved by the state), the town was left with no alternative, but to sewer all of the beach communities to New London. That was four years ago, and no shovel is near being in the ground.
On the subject of street improvements on Hartford Avenue, the town of Old Lyme sought and received a State of Connecticut grant to install new sidewalks and pave Hartford Avenue. This work is good for the Soundview area of town. But the new sidewalks and street paving are being installed before the sewer collection system. This means the street will need to be excavated after it is newly paved. Your tax dollars will pave that street twice.
Regarding the renovations to Hains Park, a priority for town residents, the costs expected to be covered by a grant of approximately $450,000, have instead ballooned to $900,000, including $450,000 from local taxpayers, even as the scope of the project was reduced. The project included a boathouse and bathrooms. The completed boathouse is used by a relatively small group of town residents given its high cost. However, the bathrooms for the Park, which will undoubtedly be used by a greater number of residents, have yet to even be designed. According to the April 1, 2019 Board of Selectmen minutes, “they [the Committee] are still working out the details with the architect on the design of the bathrooms and she [the First Selectwoman] hopes to have more to report at the next meeting.” This project is now nearly 5 years old.
In yet another unwarranted direction, the Board of Selectmen have established the Police Services Options Committee. The charge of this committee as written in its minutes is to “provide the BOS with recommendations for the collaboration with the Town of East Lyme to provide policing services for the Town of Old Lyme, or other viable options that may be identified by the Committee.” This effort to leave the Resident State Trooper and local Police Model that has served this community very well for many years, began without community input, or any supporting information on policing needs. Initiatives with far reaching consequences for the town need to be driven by compelling data.
In the case of the high-density residential complex proposed on Route 156, just south of the Exit 70 off ramp, the First Selectwoman offered vocal support and encouragement despite massive public disapproval that highlighted its obvious lack of merit. This complex was to be built at an unsafe location with significant long-term taxpayer costs at risk. It’s my belief that town government should not undertake significant projects or studies that lack common sense and prevalent support of town residents.
Opponents are not opposed to affordable housing projects in Old Lyme that are located in safe areas in town, are economically affordable for the town over time, and coincide with the character of the town. But the project proposed met none of those criteria. Fortunately, this project appears to be dying on the vine of justifiable adversity.
The Town of Old Lyme is not well served by a Board of Selectmen that lacks focus and the ability to prioritize and build resident consensus. A desultory approach to town government is neither effective nor representative. The right things don’t get done. The wrong things might. Let’s not continue to ride madly off in all directions.
R. Andrew Nixon
Old Lyme, CT