Beach Access Activists Protest Private Fence Abutting the Old Saybrook Town Beach

Fence along the Jetty and Old Saybrook's town beach (CT Examiner/Hewitt)


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OLD SAYBROOK — An illegal fence, the town line, the mean high water mark and the broader issue of public access to beaches and Long Island Sound were the focus of a second “sit-in” protest next to the town beach Thursday.

“This has been a long-time problem for years — that fence comes and goes but it’s here every year. This year it seems to have gotten bigger and it’s farther out,” said Vicki Taccardi, who grew up in Old Saybrook. 

Taccardi was one of a dozen protesters gathered inside a fence erected by the homeowner of 99 Plum Bank Road, a property that abuts the town beach. That fence blocks public access to a three-foot-wide strip of town-owned land that parallels the jetty.

The fence is located about 30 feet beyond the property line, legally determined by the mean high water mark, which changes from year to year and is now less than a foot from the foundation of the house. 

“The high tide mark is the public trust, it’s as simple as that,” said Carl Fortuna, first selectman of the town, who came to the beach to meet with the group on Thursday. 

Fortuna sent a letter, dated July 7, to the homeowner, Carol McCurdy, of Maplewood, N.J., stating that the town had received multiple complaints and a police investigation was underway about the “snow fence” on the property that poses a “hazardous condition” and is blocking public access to the water from Town Beach.

“The high tide mark is the public trust, it’s as simple as that,” said Carl Fortuna, first selectman of the town, who came to the beach to meet with the group on Thursday. 

“A property marker was found along the boundary line. The snow fence between your property and the Town Beach has shifted and/or has been moved approximately 3 feet onto Town property. Please relocate your fence onto your property,” Fortuna wrote. 

The bigger issue of breaching the mean high water mark falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.  

On June 24, an inspection was conducted by Kevin Zawoy, an environmental analyst for DEEP, Christina Costa, Zoning Enforcement Officer for Old Saybrook, and Heather Stratidis, a patrolman for the Old Saybrook Police Department.

On July 8, Brian P. Thompson, the director of Land and Water Resources Division Bureau of Water Protection and Land Reuse for DEEP, sent McCurdy a notice of non-compliance, that referenced the June 24 inspection. 

“During that inspection it was determined that you have installed and/or maintained an unauthorized approximately 50 linear foot long wooden fence along the shoreline of your property. The fence is anticipated to be located waterward of the Coastal Jurisdiction Line and potentially waterward of Mean High Water blocking public access to Town Beach. Such activity appears to have been conducted without authorization required pursuant to the Connecticut General Statutes section 22a-361,” he wrote.

Thompson asked for McCurdy to address the non-compliance issues before July 30 by either removing the fence or submitting a recent site survey with certain stipulations. 

According to Bart Gullong, 72, a fourth-generation town resident who brought his beach chair to the sit-in, the homeowners have harangued beachgoers for decades. 

“When I was 10 years old walking this beach… I believe it was his father who used to yell at me,” he said. “I was out on the flats, I was probably about 30 feet down from the fence.” 

But the fence raises bigger issues, Gullong said.

“At the end of the day it’s not so much the fence as it is the attitude,” he said. 

Margaret Murray, a longtime Old Saybrook resident, agreed. 

“It’s not one fence, it’s the attitude that the beach is owned by the homeowners,” she said. 

Linda Mahal, a member of Connecticut Coastal Public Access Defense, said the issue at the town beach was symbolic of a larger right to maintain public access to the waterfront below the mean high tide line. 

According to Mahal, local police have interceded on behalf of the property owners to support the harassment and eviction of beachgoers on the land next to the town beach.

“We’re concerned that police understand the rights of the public to the waterfront to public trust land, that they will defend the rights of the public and not support the whims of the property owners. This is not just one grumpy property owner,” she said. 

The previous Thursday, the group held a sit-in at 99 Plum Bank Road that included crossing the illegal fence and standing or sitting on the interior beach area. The homeowner allegedly called the police three times.

Natasha Simes-Vandersloot, a town resident, said the police showed up twice and did not show up for the third call from the homeowner. 

Fortuna said he had no knowledge of the police calls. Asked about the matter last week, Police Chief Michael Spera said that the matter had not come to his attention. 

When asked about the prevalence of the fence problem, Zawoy said he had “not dealt with any other fences this summer.” 

“It’s really an issue between the state and the town,” said Fortuna. “It really shouldn’t be a police issue. They’re being called to intercede in basically a civil matter, an enforcement matter for the town and the state.’

The McCurdy family was not home during Thursday’s sit-in and could not be reached for comment.

This story has been edited for clarity and to correct Linda Mahal’s connection to Connecticut Coastal Public Access Defense. Mahal is a member rather than founder of the group.