Berggren showing photos of the materials he has removed from the beaver dam. (Credit: CT Examiner/Werth)

As Beavers Flood Properties Old Lyme Debates Need for Action

in Feature/Old Lyme

OLD LYME — Dave Berggren can’t do laundry in his house any longer. He keeps his showers brief and he worries that having guests will overtax the septic system.

“I don’t dare put a charge of water that large [like laundry] and I use the bathroom gingerly,” Berggren said. “It is a good thing I live alone and there are no females here. My leach field is backing it up.”

Berggren’s septic system drains so slowly that if he washes a load of laundry or uses the bathroom too often the water backs up into his pipes. His leach field – and his lawn – have been inundated with water due to beaver activity which has raised the level of Black Hall Pond.

“You’re standing in water,” Berggren said. “That’s my lawn.”

Berggren’s house is settling on one side, the floors and windows are tilting and the septic system is close to failure. If there was a family living in his home today, and using water at a typical rate, it would have likely already failed.

Black Hall Pond has risen over Berggren’s retaining wall and spilled into his lawn (Credit: CT Examiner/Werth)

Not only have the beavers flooded Berggren’s property, his neighbors have all seen the flooding of lawns, as well as trees and shrubs chewed and felled by the beavers. The Ames Open Space Property has also had over 17 acres of land flooded due to beaver activity on Bucky Brook and in a culvert near Whippoorwill Road.

“The beavers took half my ornamental evergreens,” said Rick Humpage, another resident of Boughton Road. “Traditionally I could see two boards of my retaining wall, now there is just one.”

On June 19, Mark Wayland, a building official for the Town of Old Lyme, surveyed Berggren’s property, also on Boughton Road. Wayland wrote a letter, now filed in the building department records, summarizing the problem: “At the time I observed obvious high water of Black Hall Pond encroaching on the property caused by active beavers and beaver dam at the south end of the pond. The water table has risen to the point where it has affected the existing structure’s foundation bearing soils to an extent of causing the structure to be “sinking.”

Wayland wrote that “[i]t is the purpose of this letter that the condition be made and documented to the destructive nature of the beaver dam at this location in question. It is also in my observation with the rising ground water at this location the existing septic system may also be in jeopardy and/or damaged.”  

Wayland recommended a further evaluation by the Ledge Light Health District. Ledge Light could not be reached for comment.

The town maintains that there is nothing they can do. “Unfortunately, I believe the dam is on private property, which the town has no jurisdiction to take action on,” said Bonnie Reemsnyder, first selectman for Old Lyme. “In the past, we have encouraged private property owners to reach out to DEEP in an effort to resolve this type of issue. Landowners are the ones who must apply for a trapping permit, then reach out to the trappers.”

Last year, Berggren did reach out to DEEP and was granted a trapping permit. The permit, however, was only good for 21 days.

“I had 21 days to get a trapper to trap the beaver. I sent the permit to the trapper and it took three days to arrive. It arrived the Friday of a holiday weekend,” Berggren said. “My 21 days were shrinking fast.”

The beaver was never caught, and Berggren has instead been forced to tear down the dam every other day in an effort to keep the water level from rising further.

Because the beaver activity has also greatly impacted the Ames Open Space property, and flooded several trails, the Open Space Commission has discussed the issue of potential action at length at several recent meetings. Like Reemsnyder, the commission determined that the beaver activity was on private land, rather than open space land, and not within the the jurisdiction of the commission.

Evan Griswold, a member of the Open Space Commission, expressed support for the beavers at a recent meeting. “I’m on the beaver’s side. They are part of the natural environment,” said Evan Griswold. “Yes, they are changing it from woods to grassland, but so what? Let the beavers do what the beavers do best.

Commission members believe that the dam within the culvert is on town property, but also outside of their control.

Regardless of jurisdiction, the commission strongly opposes trapping and killing the beaver. Instead, the commission is recommending that if the town were to take action, that the town consider a beaver deceiver — a device that blocks beavers from dam-building in protected areas.

A beaver deceiver would cost the town about $3,000 and has a 90 percent success rate for the lifetime of the device. Trapping is typically only a short-term solution.

The culvert under Whippoorwill Road “is definitely a site where a beaver deceiver would be effective,” said Michael Callahan, the founder of Beaver Solutions LLC which has installed more than 1,500 beaver deceivers in the past 20 years. “Beavers are smart and probably look at that road bed as a dam with a hole in it. With a little bit of work the whole road bed becomes a dam. They get the biggest pond for the smallest amount of work.”

The town has not undertaken the construction of a beaver deceiver, and after finding a beaver deceased in the road, are uncertain whether there is ongoing beaver activity.

“We were going to look at putting a diversion in there, but the day that public works went out to see it, apparently with a little bit of prodding everything worked itself out,” Reemsnyder said. “It cleared out on its own within 24 hours. Usually even if you clear a beaver dam the beavers come back very quickly, but that hasn’t happened.”

The Connecticut Department of Transportation said that they have no record of the beaver activity affecting I-95, which runs perpendicular to Whippoorwill Road. 

Berggren shows photographs of his efforts to cope with the beaver activity (Credit: CT Examiner/Werth)

Whether or not Berggren’s frequent cleanings have caused town officials to underestimate the problem, the job for Berggren isn’t getting easier. The beavers have moved further into the marsh, according to Berggren, a place he can only reach by kayak.

“Now I can’t clean it out because they have started building more into the swamp. I’m going in with a kayak, but I’m not nimble enough to get out and get it,” said Berggren, who is 81 years old. “I’m just tired. I’m in my 80s. How long can I keep this up?”

Although the report by Wayland was filed on June 19, Reemsnyder said she had not heard about the beaver issue until a letter to the editor was printed in The Day on June 24. The letter was written by a former resident of Boughton Road and a friend of Berggren’s. In response, Reemsnyder says that if the dam is found to be on town property, then it will be taken care of.

“The town says they can’t do anything because it’s on private property,” Berggren said. “But, the town has jurisdiction over the water. Well, get the water off my lawn.”

Today, Berggren is considering purchasing an amphibious truck to help him continue his routine of dismantling the beaver dam.