OLD LYME – Progress, and controversy, are continuing in the much-debated plan to reopen town-owned open space along the Black Hall River aimed at making it a public viewing area and kayak launch.
Professional surveyors have been hired to determine the feasibility of installing a non-motorized boat launching dock at the 3.5-acre site, not far from Long Island Sound.
Officials also are taking steps to immediately increase public awareness and access to it by installing new signs at its Buttonball Road entrance where only “No Trespassing” warnings hung by a neighboring landowner are visible now.
And the months-long dispute over what town board should have jurisdiction over the property took a new twist recently at a meeting of a newly-formed 36-1 Buttonball Road Committee — composed of members of the town’s Open Space, Harbor Management and Inland Wetland and Watercourses commissions.
The wooded site containing a salt marsh is designated as open-space, but has essentially been off the map since the state deeded it to the town in 2002 under the condition it be used for recreational water access.
A proposal to revive it to its former use as a boat launch was made this spring by members of the Harbor Management Commission, who said they “discovered” it while completing an inventory of all town-owned waterfront properties in an effort to increase public access.
That plan has been met with some resistance by other town officials, including the co-chair of the Open Space Commission, Amanda Blair. She lives directly adjacent to the site and eventually recused herself from any official action regarding it.
At a meeting of the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission this week, member John Mesham said that unnamed members of Open Space had proposed that the commission pay for the entire cost of the upcoming survey in exchange for being granted jurisdiction over the site.
That “announcement,” he said, was made at a meeting earlier this month of the 36-1 Buttonball Road Committee, on which he serves.
“The Buttonball Committee members found this to be entirely unacceptable,” he said of the request for jurisdiction, and agreed that the $1,200 cost of the survey should be split among the three boards.
Wetlands board Chairwoman Rachael Gaudio agreed that the cost should be shared, saying it would be “ill-advised to put it all on Open Space.”
She also opined that she believes control of the property “will eventually go to Harbor Management.”
A request for comment made Thursday to Blair, her co-chair Evan Griswold and First Selectman Tim Griswold, who also has expressed reservations about the plan, did not draw a response.
The survey of the property will be conducted by Richard Snarski and Dick Gates.
The work will detail wetland boundaries and other aspects of the site and, according to Mesham, “help us determine if we can get some kind of dockage for the kayaks.”
Meanwhile, efforts are continuing to realign No Trespassing signs at the site’s entrance that now directly face Buttonball Road and may create a perception that residents are banned from using the gravel driveway leading to the river.
The signs were bought by Blair and hung by the Black Hall Club, which owns the driveway and has granted an easement along it to provide access to the town and Blair.
Mesham said First Selectman Griswold and Mike Barnes of the Harbor Management Commission are scheduled to meet with the Black Hall Club to discuss “repositioning their signs to make it more clear where their property is as opposed to the entrance to the right of way.”
A decision also needs to be made on what to name the site once improvements are made.
“We’re trying to come up with a better name than 36-1 Buttonball so if anyone has any suggestions let me know,” Mesham told fellow members of the wetlands board at its Tuesday meeting.
Board member Mike Miller then chimed in with what appeared to be a tongue-in-cheek idea that drew laughter from the board.
“If we call it the Tim Griswold Kayak Launch,” Miller quipped, “we might have more support from the town.”