Old Lyme Selectmen Act on Public Access Issues at Buttonball, Tantummaheag Sites

Recent planting along a disputed right of way at Tantummaheag Landing.


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OLD LYME – The Board of Selectmen on Monday voted to approve the first phase of public access improvements at a town-owned Buttonball Road property to provide viewing along the Black Hall River and potentially a boat launch. 

Under the plan, “No Trespassing” signs at the site’s entrance will be replaced by signs directing visitors down a gravel driveway that leads to the water’s edge, and others noting that access is permitted from sunrise to sunset. 

Mowing and possible tree-clearing will create parking for about six cars. 

The 3-acre 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. 

First Selectman Tim Griswold said at Monday’s meeting that the new signs “would be to allow the public to come to the property but not out onto the marsh at this juncture. So it would be essentially a place to come and get toward the water and look out and watch birds and that sort of thing. But staying off the marsh – no fishing, no boating and so forth.”

Whether a long-dormant kayak and canoe launch will be revived with perhaps a wooden platform across the marsh will continue to be explored in consultation with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Griswold said, noting that the deed to the property requires it to be used for access to the river. 

“I would say more work needs to be done to properly analyze the possibility of people fishing along the banks of the marsh, as well as creating some sort of a platform that would enable one to launch a kayak or a canoe into the river,” he said.

The improvements approved unanimously Monday were recommended by the 36-1 Buttonball Road Committee – composed of members of the Open Space, Harbor Management and Inland Wetland and Watercourses commissions. 

The committee was formed this summer after much debate among the three boards as to which had jurisdiction over the site.  

“I think there’s been good cooperation and agreement on what’s happened so far,” Griswold said, “so hopefully that same cooperation will continue into the future as we evaluate phase two.” 

Also on Monday, the Board of Selectmen discussed a long-running controversy over public access and ownership of a landing at the end of Tantummaheag Road, which an abutting landowner claims to own and has limited parking and access with boulders and plantings. 

The town, which says it owns the road and has maintained it for decades, took action in August to increase public access by clearing part of a stand of tall reeds to allow boats to be launched into a cove that leads to the Connecticut River. 

Griswold said a town attorney met last week with the abutters, George Frampton and Carla D’Arista, and that “there is a chance for some dialogue” but the two sides remain at an “impasse.” 

“We’re hoping that we can find more common ground than not,” he said. “During this next couple of weeks, we look forward to having either some fruitful discussions or we will be taking some action,” in order to remove impediments to public access.

Responding to previous complaints of visitors to the site being confronted by the abutters, Selectwoman Martha Shoemaker urged that any such incidents be communicated to town officials.

“We just want to reiterate that if any resident goes to the landing and is treated unfairly or rudely, we would like an email sent to the selectmen’s office to any of us and we will forward it to our attorneys to let them know that you have not been treated nicely,” she said.

Steve Jensen

Steve Jensen was a journalist for 13 years with the Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer of Manchester before becoming a Communications Director for the State of Connecticut. Jensen covers politics and law enforcement for CT Examiner. T: 860 661-6404