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What's wrong with Attorney General William Tong?

Forgive me. I've made this lament before.

But Attorney General William Tong's recent answer to questions about the owner of a waterfront mansion in Waterford erecting a fence and no-trespassing sign atop a stone beach groin built by the state of Connecticut reminds me what a lackluster, wimpy attorney general we seem to be stuck with.

Again, I can't help but think of what a robust response I would have gotten from his predecessors, George Jepsen or now-U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, had I asked about someone building a beach-blocking fence atop a stone structure built decades ago by the state.

I am quite sure that both Blumenthal and Jepsen would have been quick to assure the public they would do everything they could to at least research the issue to be sure that anyone blocking public access to the beach was within their legal right to do so.

It's so obvious an answer from an attorney general charged with representing the public's interest that it makes Tong's muddled, timid answer seem especially shocking.

I asked Tong's office if the attorney general would comment on the decision by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to allow a fence to be erected on the beach groin beside the Seaside State Park property in Waterford.

DEEP says it is accepting the opinion of a surveyor hired by the owner of the mansion on Shore Road, claiming that his client now owns part of the state-built stone groin.

DEEP says it is not going to conduct its own survey.

I asked the attorney general what he thinks.

"The office of the Attorney General represents DEEP as its legal counsel, and we cannot comment on the substance of that representation," the spokesperson wrote back.

Wow.

This is the elected attorney general, the highest-ranking legal officer of the state, deferring to the DEEP bureaucrats on a matter of utmost importance to the citizens of the state: unfettered access to the shoreline.

If the attorney general doesn't think he can comment on citizens' legal rights to the shoreline and laws against waterfront beach owners blocking it, then he should be ashamed of himself.

If he doesn't think he has the right to investigate on his own, reach a conclusion about whether a homeowner can erect a beach-blocking fence on a structure built by the state and comment about it, then he ought to just resign.

Who wants a lawyer who is afraid to comment?

AG Tong seems unable to do anything unless it's in cooperation with a consortium of other United States attorneys general, joining established national crusades to protect consumer interests.

When it comes to home-baked problems, AG Tong always seems to choke.

Really, how hard would it be for the attorney general to say that he has great respect for the public's right to shoreline access and he will look into any suggestion or complaint that it's not being honored?

Since writing about the beach-blocking fence near Seaside in Waterford, I have heard from two homeowners with property on that beach who are appalled by what their neighbor has done with his fence.

I've heard that someone angry about the fence removed its accompanying private beach/no-trespassing sign.

One reader told me he's researching the original construction of the groin, which includes concrete steps clearly made to improve the public's access to the beach on both sides of it.

I'm sure we would have heard a chest-thumping AG Blumenthal promise by now to  protect the public's rights. From AG Jepsen, we would have heard at least a measured promise to get to the bottom of it.

From AG Tong, we get a timid no comment, a bland deferral to the bureaucrats who won't even conduct their own land survey of the beachfront at Seaside. These are bureaucrats from the same agency that decided to hide the public entrance to Seaside State Park and not replace the only sign marking the park.

Is this the best Connecticut can do for an attorney general?

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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