OLD LYME — At a packed forum introducing the town’s Republican and Democratic selectman candidates, about 60 locals, many from the beach community, lobbed questions about sewers, public safety, transparency, dog parks and book banning on Sunday afternoon at the community center on Hartford Ave.
Before the public questions started, candidates introduced themselves to the audience and talked about how they would work with the beach community. All four candidates are longtime residents of the town, educated their children in the Old Lyme Schools and have served on a number of boards and commissions.
Democrat incumbent Selectman Martha Shoemaker, who is seeking the first selectman seat, named sewers – a project dating back to a 2012 state consent order – as one of her top three priorities for the beach area, along with public safety and flood and erosion control. She told beach residents she would advocate for them and work to find a concrete plan to resolve the question of sewering the shoreline.
“My experience with labor negotiations and my success at finding solutions to complex problems will assist me well with this priority…I will investigate all possible options to solve this problem, including revisiting the order with DEEP. I will work diligently with the state and federal leadership to access available money for any project to offset cost to the town and affected homeowners once the desired solution is determined,” she said.
Republican John Mesham, a former state trooper running for first selectman, said public safety was a top issue. He emphasized his management level experience in law enforcement and his long familiarity with Sound View beach – with one audience member calling out, “Thank you for your service,” which drew applause from the room.
“I spent a big part of my summer [was spent] right down the street here in Sound View, so I understand… I dealt with the traffic, the overcrowding, the over-intoxication, and the rude visitors. I arrested the drunk drivers, I did the cooler checks, I broke up fights on the beach. So I think I have a perception and a perspective and experience that I don’t think any of the other candidates would have,” he said. “I spent the majority of my career at Troop F, so I’ve seen the evolution of Sound View, what worked, what didn’t work, and all the different tactics that were tried… If elected, I’m committed to regular dialogue and quarterly meetings with the Federation of Beaches and any of the associations.”
Democrat Jim Lampos, is running for second selectman on the ticket with Shoemaker. He serves on the Planning Commission and is the only candidate who is a beach community resident. He said his experiences in business, public policy administration and analysis, and working on redevelopment in New York City – combined with his longtime dedication to the beach, the community and the town – would provide important background for creating policy in Old Lyme.
Republican Jude Read, who is running with Mesham, is a self-employed business consultant who has served on the Board of Finance for 20 years and is the treasurer of the MacCurdy Salisbury Educational Foundation. She has been a member of the Board of Education and the Historical Society. She emphasized listening to the beach communities’ concerns on a regular basis and working on economic development along Route 156.
“I had requested that this area be included when the town-funded studies regarding economic development. Unfortunately, the majority of those funds went to the Halls Road project. We need to direct our efforts to the beaches and the business communities along the beaches. We can’t keep putting this on hold,” said Read.
During the Q&A, resident Mary Daly, a vocal opponent of the sewer project, asked why it was not required for the Water Pollution Control Authority to post the recordings of its meetings.
“Why do we bother recording them if you’re not going to post them to the public? We need that information so that we can either support or find alternatives to help the town out. If we are not able to get that information, how can we be part of this process? We can’t.”
Mesham said he was aware that Old Lyme town hall is “just not at the point where their online information is to the volume and variety” of other town halls in the area.
“That’s one thing that I would definitely want to work with. I know that might involve more scanning and more technology, but it’s already in place. We just have to expand it.”
Later, resident Carolyn Miranda asked why some board and commissions provided dial-in access but others did not. She also asked why some commissions allowed public comment on any topic while others restricted public comment to agenda items.
Shoemaker answered that the town was using ARPA funds to buy equipment that will make “all meetings accessible to the public by using Microsoft Teams. She said that the technology will also allow home viewers and those in the meeting audience to see commission documents that are under discussion.
“Every document that we have is FOIA-able and you should see it. Any contract that we’re signing, you should know about it. So you should see everything that we’re doing. And I will make sure that that happens,” said Shoemaker.
Daly also challenged Mesham on his perception of Sound View, which she said was of families peacefully enjoying the beach and of a community upgrading itself over time.
“I am sorry to hear that you didn’t notice when you spoke about Sound View, the improvements in our community. When I look at my community here, I see home after home being upgraded… We are stepping up here and not just in appearances, are also stepping up our septic systems because it has been 15 years… But I’m sorry to hear that you don’t see the beauty that’s also
here in Sound View in your speech,” she said. “Do you see this community as one that is beginning to stand up and take pride?
Mesham responded that “absolutely, there’s been a great transition” and that Sound View was not the same as it was in 2002 when he began working there.
“I wholeheartedly agree, it’s better that we’ve made improvements. I want to continue going down that road. You probably would agree that when the sun goes down, and the carousel opens up, it’s almost a different kind of neighborhood… I love that and I certainly want to see it going in the direction that it is. So I’m sorry, I gave you the impression,” he said.
Lampos said that 2002 was a low point in Sound View but that since then neighbors have pulled together and put in time and effort to make improvements.
“My focus has been to get respect for this beach. It’s an amazing resource. It’s the best swimming beach, I think in Connecticut, I’d even say on the East coast, it’s a beautiful resource,” Lampos said. “It wasn’t respected, and the people in this area weren’t respected. And you can still see that in the comments in the Day or Facebook. I have been trying to change that and to get respect for this beach.”
Read said that Sound View has “skyrocketed” from what it was and is now a wonderful place for families and children compared to 20 or 30 years ago.
“One thing I think may help continue with that is if more of the families and Old Lyme can come down here and have a place to park, even if it’s after six o’clock at night. That’s where I’m coming from, we need to make this a place that’s accessible to the rest of the community,” Read said. “It’s a lovely place for a family to visit. Policing at times has had its gaps, and I’m confident that we can address those and protect what we have now.”
Frank Pappalardo, a Sound View resident, asked how the town would improve consistency with policing in Sound View on the weekends and late nights.
Mesham said that weekend and late night shifts were difficult to cover and that the town needed a more diverse police force, supplementing full time officers with part-timers.
To Shoemaker, resident Peter Luccihese, asked about the potential expansion of sewers in the Rogers Lake and Halls Road areas of town.
Shoemaker acknowledged there were clean water issues at Rogers Lake but said she wanted to solve the shoreline sewage issues first, and that if a new sewer area were to be considered, it would require new intermunicipal agreement with New London.
Lampos said that even though the Old Lyme Water Pollution Control Authority makes policy for the entire town as one sewer district, the costs for the beach sewer project were being charged only to Sound View – but the share of who pays the costs might be different if sewers were installed elsewhere in town.
“We pay 100%, or whatever the town’s obligating itself to,” Lampos said. “When I asked what happens, if another part of town wants sewers, would we have to pay a share of that, I’m told ‘we’re going to take it on a case by case basis.’ That’s kind of shocking. And that sort of breaks faith with a lot of people.”
Lampos said the town contracted for excess capacity in case other parts of the shoreline need to connect to the sewer, which the town beach residents are paying for with no guarantee of future reimbursement.
Lampos said that “famously, everyone knows that I’m against sewers” from the start, but if the town was going ahead with sewers then Sound View needed a “fair deal.”
“So if we were to at least pause, maybe hit that reset button, look at all the options. But we need a fair deal on sewers, and a lot of people down here don’t feel like they’re getting the respect they deserve,” he said.
The audience responded with loud applause.
Mesham said neither Rogers Lake nor Halls Road needed sewers and that the Sound View sewers project needed to be completed.
“Let’s advance things down here before we start looking for somewhere else,” he said.
“With Halls Road – talk about mission creep – it’s not up to town to soil sample for a developer. We’re talking about making it walkable and more enjoyable. We don’t need sewers to do that. We wanted to put in sidewalks, lighting and trees eight years ago and we have no sidewalks lighting or landscaping. So let’s focus on getting the deal done here.”
Again, the audience broke into loud applause.
Emerson Colwell, resident, asked Shoemaker what made her support keeping the controversial book, “Let’s Talk About It” in the Old Lyme library and not moving the book from the teen area to the adult area.
Shoemaker responded that “we have specific freedoms in this country, freedom of speech, freedom to read. And I will tell you that every parent in this community has the right to raise their child in the manner that they wish.”
Colwell said, “So you’re stating that you’re okay with a parent directing a child to go to an 18 and above website? Is that what I’m hearing?”
Shoemaker responded, “I’m saying that I have three sons and I know that in five minutes, they could have found anything they wanted on the website, when they were 12, 13 and 14 years old, even with and without parental controls.”
Directed to Mesham, resident Kim Thompson said that in the Spring, conservatives challenged several books in a library and the Republican town committee promised to protect parental rights. She asked, “What is your stance on censorship in the schools and in our public institutions?”
Mesham said that he was willing to listen to anyone and that freedom of speech works both ways.
“I think there’s concerned parents in town, and you can call them whatever you want. I’m going to call them parents. I’m going to call them neighbors…. because after 29 years of policing… if anybody should look at somebody, and think that kind of rhetoric towards your neighbors, it should be me, and I don’t. So I’m willing to listen to anyone. So when somebody has an objection, I don’t think we need to shout them down. I think we can listen to have an honest debate.”
Earlier in the forum, moderator Douglas Whalen directed a question about dog parks to Read.
“The closest dog park is Clinton or Waterford. A lot of people here have dogs. And what are your thoughts about trying to get a dog park into the town of Old LYme, so the town residents can enjoy the dog park and their dogs can have friendly communications.”
Read said a dog park was a wonderful idea.
“I do not currently have the dog. We have had dogs. We have dog visitors, I have friends who leave their dogs with me. I work closely with animal control – that’s my one of the departments I worked with on Board of Finance. It had not occurred to me, but I think it’s something we should look at if a number of people in the town are interested in having a dog park. I see no ham and a lot of advantages.
“Knocking on doors around town, it’s one of the top comments I’ve heard from people when I ask them, ‘What do you want to see?’ … ‘We need a dog park.’
Shoemaker also concurred, “because as we door knock, everyone has a dog.”
Read said that could be space in the fields near the senior center and Town Woods.
“We could improve relationships – young people, animals, older folks that are somewhat isolated at times. I think it’s a fabulous idea.”
The event was sponsored by the Federation of Old Lyme Beaches Inc.