Old Lyme Inches Toward Uneasy Cooperation on Buttonball Boat Launch

A preliminary rendering of a 100-foot dock on Horseneck Creek at 36-1 Buttonball Road in Old Lyme. (Courtesy of Old Lyme Harbor Management)


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OLD LYME — At the 36-1 Buttonball Road Property Committee meeting on Monday morning, the Harbor Management Commission and the Open Space Commission cautiously approached joint management of the town’s three-acre site on Horseneck Creek after months of vying for control. 

Chris Staab, Buttonball committee member and chair of Harbor Management, and Michael Barnes, member of the Buttonball Committee and Harbor Management, presented renderings of preliminary ideas for a 100-foot dock with observation platforms that would lead to a perpendicular ramp down to a float at the edge of Horseneck Creek where small craft could be launched. 

A walking trail would be mowed through the ground cover on the site, leading from a parking area to the dock. A rail fence would be installed to keep people off the marshland. The dock site was chosen as the furthest location from the abutting property, owned by Amanda Blair, co-chair of Open Space.

Barnes emphasized that the upland area would not be groomed like a park, but would be left mostly natural after the removal of invasive species. 

He said that a hydrographic report, paid for by Harbor Management, showed that the creek’s depth at the low tide is two feet, making it navigable for kayaks or canoes. 

“Generally DEEP looks for 18 inches,” said Barnes, who estimated the project would cost $60,000. 

Staab said that during the remaining tidal cycle, the water would be much higher.

“Add 3.5 feet to those numbers. The other 22 hours of the day you’re not at low tide,” said Staab.

Terry Lewis, a member of Harbor Management, said it would be important to establish the rules of the property and to provide signage, making sure to keep people off the marsh. 

Fred Behringer, chair of the committee and member of Open Space, began the meeting by reading the following list of recommendations from the Open Space Commission: 

  1. Open Space will support a proposal that ensures an installation – a dock, a viewing deck, a walkway – that does not have a significant environmental impact, has gone through a standard review with DEEP and a structure that is designed by a registered engineer. 
  2. Joint jurisdiction: Harbor Management should manage below mean high water and means of access to water and Open Space should manage the area above mean high water mark.
  3. The public use is for passive enjoyment, with limited impact on the natural environment. Open Space will work with Harbor Management and Inland Wetlands to protect environmentally sensitive areas.
  4. Open Space will assist Harbor Management in obtaining funding for an improved plan. 

“Open Space is not supportive of picnicking, fishing or hunting, not supportive of a kayak rack, and would like to keep the parking area limited to maybe eight cars, and to keep the trails to a minimum, with clearly marked signs,” said Behringer. 

A preliminary rendering shows a mowed trail leading to a 100-foot dock on Horseneck Creek in Old Lyme. (Courtesy of Old Lyme Harbor Management)

After further discussion, Behringer asked Harbor Management members how they felt about managing the space cooperatively with Open Space. 

“My view is that Open Space all along has been proposing the shared responsibility. My impression has been some pushback, concern, skepticism from Harbor Management. And I’m just wondering how you guys are thinking, now we’ve had time to talk about it this morning,” said Behringer. 

Lewis said that it was difficult to collaborate after Open Space initially wanted to shut down Harbor Management’s ideas for developing the boat launch.

John Mesham, committee and Inland Wetlands member, said his concern was that Open Space could block public access. 

“I have some cynicism about joint control. I would want Open Space and Harbor Management to agree upon a site plan,” said Mesham.

Behringer said that the leadership of Open Space will be changing, a point confirmed by Greg Futoma, who said that he expects to become the chair at the commission’s Wednesday meeting when co-chairs Evan Griswold and Amanda Blair will step down. 

“I will tell you that Open Space is more than willing to work with you,” said Futoma. “Our concerns have always been to basically adhere to what the town requires us to do. And that’s to provide passive access to nature, but also to protect nature. And I’m really happy to hear that you folks are very interested in protecting the marshland and so forth.”

Barnes said he liked Mesham’s idea of an agreement on a site plan, but “even with the change in leadership and some of the same players on the team, I still have an uneasy feeling. I don’t see it as Open Space, I see it as town property.” 

Sloan Danenhower, committee and Harbor Management member, said many of the details about the dock design and construction will likely be determined by DEEP. 

“We will do an application to DEEP, and a lot might get decided by DEEP on the dock that would enable us to further boil it down to cooperate together,” he said. 

Evan Griswold, co-chair of Open Space, said that the property needed to be seen as a whole, not as parts. 

“There’s the idea that you can’t separate, in a floodplain area like Blackhall River, you can’t separate marsh from the coastal forest. There are things that interplay between one and the other that are very important to the whole ecosystem,” said Griswold. “I’m hoping that Harbor Management and Open Space can work together to achieve the goal of public access but respecting the biota of the property as much as possible.”

Behringer said the committee will discuss next steps at its next meeting on Feb. 23.