Seven months later, Old Lyme residents still search for solutions to beaver flooding
Old Lyme — The man whose property on Black Hall Pond is being flooded by nearby beaver activity is again calling on town officials to finally step up and help him solve his beaver woes.
Dave Berggren said with time running out to save his property at 17 Boughton Road, he is prepared to take legal action against the town now that he’s discovered a state statute outlining municipal jurisdiction to relieve such flooding.
But town officials say they aren’t so sure if Berggren is interpreting the law accurately, or even correctly pinpointing where the problem dams are, causing more confusion in what First Selectman Tim Griswold described as a tricky property issue that may need legal intervention, but which he said he has been trying to address.
Tucked away in a boggy, thickly forested area just south of the pond, beavers have been building dams on a stream known as the Black Hall River or Bucky Brook in an area where several private property lines converge, making it difficult to figure out where the dams are located.
Up until now, Berggren and town officials believed that the only way to end the flooding was to either kill the beavers through trapping, or to lead a flow pipe, called a beaver deceiver, to allow blocked water to move through the dam. In both cases, however, the decision is up to the owner of the property where the dam is located.
But without knowing on whose properties the dams are located, Berggren said he has been “running in circles” trying to resolve the issue.
Berggren and other residents have ripped out the dams over the years in an effort to help save property from the rising waters, but the beavers have just as quickly built more dams, placing them further and further back into the depths of the swamp.
“This has been going on a long time. How much do I have to put up with? When you get to be my age, you’d like to take it easy and have a good time, and not be fighting everyday down in the swamp ... tearing out beaver dams,” said Berggren, who is 82.
“I’m hoping that because this (law) has some teeth, this is going somewhere now,” he said. “The water is going to go out now, because the law says so.”
Berggren says he has lived on the pond for more than 50 years, battling the persistent flooding for more than four years. He says water levels have risen more than two feet during that time, turning his yard “into a soggy mess,” causing his house to slowly sink and damaging his septic system, among other issues. The flooding has been a problem for other residents living near the pond, who also recently have complained to the town.
The Department of Energy and the Environment has confirmed that beaver activity is causing the issues.
Over the years, Berggren said he’s tried contacting both DEEP and the town for help, specifically asking town officials to take action and help locate the dams, without any success.
In June, former First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder told The Day that because beaver dams were being built on private not town property, the town had no jurisdiction or power to resolve the issue.
“The town shouldn’t do anything about dams that are on private property,” Reemsnyder had said. “I can’t get a trapping permit for someone else’s property, but I can for town property.”
Since The Day last spoke to him in June, Berggren said the problem has gotten worse.
“Now, there’s black mold growing, and I’m having breathing issues,” he said. “This house isn’t beautiful, but I’ve liked it for all these years. But now I have to tear it down, because you can’t repair this. I have to tear it down.”
The home, about 100 feet from the pond’s edge on his 1.6-acre property, has slowly morphed from cozy lakeside cottage to an uneven nightmare, he said. A section that sits on cinderblock pillars has been slowly sinking into the ground, making his living room uninhabitable. And because the walls of his home are now being bent due to a shifting foundation, Berggren said fissures created in the damp walls are creating the perfect situation for black mold to grow in.
“It keeps growing and spreading, too,” he said. “I can’t sleep because of this.”
Black mold, or Stachybotrys chartarum, “can grow on material with a high cellulose content, such as fiberboard, gypsum board, and paper,” according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. “Growth occurs when there is moisture from water damage, water leaks, condensation, water infiltration, or flooding. Constant moisture is required for its growth.”
Also according to the CDC website, the Institute of Medicine in 2004 “found there was sufficient evidence to link indoor exposure to mold with upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheeze in otherwise healthy people.”
Berggren has been trying to abate the mold with a spray but worries that could affect the health of his pet birds that live on his enclosed porch, which he now uses as his living space.
“I keep going up and caulking the wall so the water doesn’t keep adding to (the mold),” he said. “But once (the mold) is here and under the house, there is no way to get at that.”
A light at the end of the tunnel?
On Jan. 2, Berggren said he received what he thinks is the golden ticket to his relief in the form of a letter from DEEP, which included a copy of a state statute outlining that towns have the authority to clear waterways causing flooding, even if those waterways are not on town property.
“DEEP is telling us there is now a state law that the (town) can’t do what they’ve been doing down here,” Berggren said. “It’s now spelled out.”
Griswold says he isn’t sure Berggren is reading the statute properly. The law doesn’t say the town "will" help, it says the town "may," Griswold said. "I think you would want to be a good neighbor and help him out. ... You can argue the town can help, but the law doesn’t say it must help.”
According to Charles Lee of DEEP’s Water Resources Division, who referred the statute to Berggren, the town is “responsible for clearing waterways.”
“I have this statute ready to go because we are so frequently asked questions about flooding, waterways and beavers,” Lee said. “The town would have to manage (how to deal with the dams,) so I can’t speak for that individual town, but it’s their responsibility."
Griswold, who is aware of the statute, said he believes the first step to solving the issue is identifying where and whose properties the dams are on, either by flying a drone overhead or by having someone go into the swamp. Then, he said, the town must send out notices to the property owners, stating that they must either take care of the dam or the town shall bill them for the work.
Griswold couldn’t give a timeline on how fast the town could move on the issue but said identifying properties could be done within a couple weeks, assuming the drone flight provides clear results. Then, it will come down to the willingness of property owners to respond and take action with the dams, he said. He also worried about legal issues arising, potentially slowing down the process.
Griswold said if the town is forced to take action, he prefers to install “beaver deceivers” through the dams to divert water to other side of the dam, rather than find trappers to kill the beavers. He said that’s because it’s difficult to be sure all the beavers in an area are killed. He also said it would be a matter of time before other beavers inhabit the area and start the problem again.
“I suppose if there is a good dam and you had a massacre there, then other beavers might say, ‘Hmm, look at this. Abandoned dam. Let’s go,’” Griswold said.
Griswold said he's been in contact with a drone flyer. If the drone flight doesn’t work, he said, he is considering hiring Michael Callahan, owner of Beaver Solutions LLC of Southampton, Mass. — whom the town previously hired to help with other beaver flooding issues — to assess the area and suggest solutions.
Callahan agreed by phone Friday that “beaver deceivers” are typically the most effective way to eradicate a beaver dam flooding issue while helping preserve the environment, and he typically suggests installing such devices in 75% of the cases he is called to address.
“About 25% of the time I will recommend trapping, because the devices we use won’t be feasible,” he said. “... But for trapping to work, (trappers) can’t even leave one beaver. That one beaver can rebuild. And in our experience, new ones will take over the area. Beavers are territorial, so they have to find their own places. Young ones will eventually be moving in.”
Callahan said “beaver deceivers,” on the other hand, can cost about $2,000, take about a day to install and the piping will last for 10 years or more before fencing around the pipe needs to be replaced.
“We are not yet exactly sure how this situation will be addressed,” Griswold said. “But we, at the very least, think we can get in there and do something about it.”
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