OLD LYME — The town has ordered the former head of the Open Space Commission to install hay bales and engage a soil scientist after she constructed a berm without a permit along the edge of her property, wetlands and public open space
“I’m planting a few native trees to give my property some privacy from the change of use to a public dock space, which has been contentious,” Open Space member Amanda Blair told CT Examiner on Tuesday, adding that the trees would be planted in lieu of a potential town-constructed fence, which “would be expensive and would also disrupt the wildlife corridor.”
Blair, whose driveway requires an easement over the town’s property at 36-1 Buttonball Road, said she made a mistake by not asking for a permit to create the berm. Blair said she has since abided by the town’s orders to install hay bales and hire a soil scientist.
Eric Knapp, the zoning enforcement officer for the town, said Monday that he wrote a letter requesting Blair to stake and maintain hay bales and submit a soil report as soon as possible. Knapp said the notice was not a cease and desist order because the wetlands jurisdiction – inland or tidal – has yet to be determined.
“It is my understanding that a soil scientist has been retained by the property owner to evaluate whether this is inland or tidal wetlands, and that my future actions will be related to those findings,” Knapp told CT Examiner.
The adjoining 3-acres of open space have been subject of a series of contentious meetings over the last year, as Open Space and the town’s Harbor Management Commission have vied for jurisdiction over the property. The property, a former boat launch on Horseneck Creek, a tributary of Black Hall River, was given to the town by the state on the condition that it would provide recreational access to the creek.
Blair’s role as a neighbor, and a member of Open Space, has led to complaints by members of the Harbor Commission, including a complaint to the town’s Ethics Commission. Blair has participated in a number of meetings related to the abutting property, sometimes as a self-described private citizen, and sometimes as a member of the committee.
“There was an ethics violation filed against me by Harbor Management because they thought I had a conflict. There was a unanimous decision by the Ethics Commission that there was no conflict of interest. And until the proposal was submitted to the selectmen and accepted, I have recused myself even though there was no conflict,” Blair told CT Examiner.
In the minutes of an Open Space Commission site walk on May 2, Blair is listed as a commission member. The walk was held to discuss the location of a trail for public use through the open space property.
Fred Behringer, who sits on Open Space and who previously chaired a joint subcommittee with Inland Wetland and Harbor Management to decide the fate of the property, told CT Examiner that he organized the site walk on May 2 and that he felt “it was best to develop consensus among Open Space members before sharing our ideas with Harbor Management. No decisions were made at the site walk and none will be made until after we meet with Harbor Management.”
Behringer said a meeting has been set up with Harbor Management on May 22 to show them the agreement to establish a perimeter trail on the site.
“Based on that we will work towards finalizing plans and I do not see any reason why a trail will not be available by the end of the summer – probably much sooner,” Behringer said.
During a visit to her property, Blair told CT Examiner that the originally proposed perimeter trail was much too close to her property line.
“I have been on Open Space for almost 20 years. When we make trails on Open Space, we leave a buffer, a wildlife buffer, we protect the adjoining property owners to give them privacy, so this is not a new policy or anything. We’ve always tried to work with the public so we can coexist,” she said.
Michael Presti, chair of Harbor Management, told CT Examiner the two commissions had built a strong relationship over the last year.
“From where we were, 18 months, two years ago, everything’s been ironed out and we have a really good working relationship. We just want to use property and obviously it hasn’t been opened up to the enjoyment of this town, and having water access was a primary goal, but having the partnership with Open Space, I think is gonna be very beneficial.”
In Knapp’s letter to Blair dated May 12, 2023, which CT Examiner obtained by filing a Freedom of Information Act request, he wrote, “the dumping of material and the creation of a berm with no associated erosion controls on the edge of a wetland is a serious issue.”
He instructed Blair to install erosion control measures and to provide a plan of what she was trying to achieve. He asked for the quantity of material dumped on the site so that he could determine whether the requirements of the town’s zoning code Section 15 (Excavation and Filling of Earth Products) had been triggered.
Knapp said that if the affected area is inland wetlands, he will issue an order and schedule a show cause hearing. “I anticipate the Inland Wetlands Commission will request that the material be removed and the site restored,” he wrote.
He said that if the area is tidal wetlands, he will forward the materials to an official at DEEP and will ask whether a Coastal Area Management permit will be required and whether the berm qualified as a structure placed without a permit.
Knapp said he would work with Blair to achieve resolution of the matter and “strongly encouraged” her to consult with him before undertaking any future activities.