Army Corps may not fix Enders Island sea wall after all

I heard from a lot of people after a recent column in which I complained about residents of Masons Island who have selfishly objected to an Army Corps of Engineers project to reinforce the sea wall at the Enders Island retreat run by the Catholic Society of St. Edmund.

It seems shameful to me to stand in the way of a religious organization trying to protect itself from dangerous storms because you don't like the fact that it allows the public to cross your island to visit its island.

One of the calls was from the Corps of Engineers to explain that the proposed project, which has been in development for years, would not directly rebuild the failing sea wall but rather create a reinforcement, a band of new stone outside and along the perimeter of the original sea wall, a new retaining wall to absorb the force of the waves.

The Corps also had some news to report, to explain that, based on questions raised during the public comment section of the process, it is reviewing whether the sea wall reinforcement project will continue at all.

At issue were the comments suggesting the Enders Island deed restricts access for the public. The project would be funded from a Corps program that benefits nonprofits that offer a public service open to all.

Chris Hatfield, a Corps project manager supervising the proposed work on Enders Island, said Corps lawyers will be reviewing the issue and that evidence from both neighbors and the property owner will be reviewed.

Under the program to assist nonprofits, the Corps would pay 65 percent of the cost to reinforce the sea wall, a project that had a preliminary cost estimate of about $2 million several years ago.

Of course, the retreat does indeed now welcome the public and invites anyone, even those not participating in specific programs, to come and enjoy the spiritual atmosphere of the island.

It's kind of what I think of as the open-door, welcome-all policy of the Catholic Church, or most churches, for that matter.

"It's been there a long time and it's served a lot of people in a lot of great ways," Hatfield said. "Apparently (public access) is an issue that has been raised in the past. We are getting into the details of how to answer that question."

"We will hopefully have (the answer) sooner rather than later," he added.

I commend the Corps of Engineers for thoroughly addressing the issue head on, though I suspect the neighbors trying to shut down public access to this unusual seaside church retreat will not have any more luck than they have had with entreaties to Stonington zoning officials.

And I would pray for those so mean-spirited that they would try to stop the people in the Enders Island congregation from protecting themselves against dangerous storms.

The other emails and phone calls I got last week were overwhelmingly in praise of the retreat and all the good work that it does, especially in addiction therapy.

A few were from residents suggesting there is also support for Enders Island among Masons Island residents. They told me they donate, attend services and are grateful for all the retreat accomplishes.

One Masons Island resident who volunteers at the retreat told me the story of how two signs he put out directing people to a Lenten fish fry on Enders Island, to benefit its sobriety program, mysteriously disappeared. That doesn't surprise me.

I heard from one gentleman who has enjoyed the "grace" of Enders Island more than 40 years, from the time he first considered and decided against a life of religious service, to more recent visits, in talking to young men about their struggles with their addictions and the solace the spiritual atmosphere of the island provides.

"The rebuilding of the wall is not about saving an island," he wrote. "Rather it's about saving a special place where people of all faiths can feel God's breath blow on them and to give thanks for the gift of grace."

"I love Enders Island. I love the ministry that is literally saving souls and lives," he said.

I also heard in another email, right after the column appeared, from someone calling himself only Sal.

"Hope you die from cancer soon," was all the email said.

No grace there.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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