Why are Groton officials trying to hide coastal access?
I see a new mystery unfolding in Groton, in regards to a trail of costal public access points in downtown Mystic.
Why has Groton officialdom been stalling for more than three years replacing some signs marking public access to the riverfront in Mystic?
Is there some reason these private properties, marked for decades as legally established public access points on a state-created trail along the river, are now being stubbornly left unmarked, in one case posted instead with no trespassing signs?
Does somebody know somebody with influence?
The problem was first brought to my attention last summer by public access advocate Richard Fitzgerald of Groton, who told me he had been trying unsuccessfully for three years to have the missing coastal access signs replaced.
I wrote about the problem in September, and the town later replaced some of the signs, where they were most obviously missing.
But town officials refused to replace those marking access at the Powerhouse Condominiums on Water Street and at the Fort Rachel Marina at the end of the same street.
It seemed obvious to me, after reviewing the town's files, that the state, in marking these properties decades ago as public access, was on solid legal ground.
The waterfront of the marina is actually an extension of the public road there, Water Street, and modern deeds to the marina, part of the town's files on the property, clearly define the public right of way there extending across the marina property all the way to the Amtrak tracks. It's a town-owned roadway.
The access to the river across the Powerhouse condominiums, clearly marked on the original state-funded trail guide, still listed today on the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection website, was created as part of a 1990 town approval of balconies on the building. State law encourages public access be provided for waterfront properties applying for approvals for non-water-dependent uses.
The state's recommended public access for Powerhouse is in the minutes for the 1990 meeting and referenced in the record of decision on file in land records.
Town Manager John Burt told me in September that the town was seeking a legal opinion on these two access points that are on the original trail marked by DEEP.
I've been checking on it from time to time, and Burt told me in an email Feb. 10 that the legal review was going to take another four weeks. Add that on to the three years Fitzgerald has been waiting for the town to resolve the case of the missing signs on the state-created trail.
I left a message with the town's attorney, Eric Callahan, asking why it was taking so long. He didn't call back.
Mayor Patrice Granatosky seems to be on the team blocking replacement of the public access signs at Powerhouse and Fort Rachel Marina, introducing a motion at a recent Town Council meeting to ratify a new master plan for marking the trail, with those two properties excluded.
It was only because of the dogged insistence of Councilor Aundre Bumgardner that approval of the master plan was put on hold to wait for decisions on Fort Rachel and Powerhouse. The council agreed instead only to bless the design of the proposed new public access signage.
Burt indicated in his email that the town might not release the legal opinions about access at Fort Rachel and Powerhouse. A legal opinion might qualify for a Freedom of Information exemption, but the town does not have to evoke one.
Certainly, if the town plans to permanently remove signs for public costal access at two locations long ago identified and marked by the state, they better have a good reason and share it with the public.
I suspect that Councilor Bumgardner, who said he has heard consistently from constituents who value the coastal access, would insist on an explanation of why places in downtown Mystic long marked as public access are being eliminated.
This is the opinion of David Collins.
Letter from CT Dept. of Environmental Protection and Deed
Click on each document to read.
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