It may be number nine on the priority list, but the construction of a boardwalk on Long Beach West is no doubt the most contentious recommendation for the future use of the barrier beach.
Back in May 2011, Mayor John A. Harkins created the Long Beach West Blue Ribbon Commission, a seven-member task force charged with addressing the future options and potential uses of Long Beach West.
And last week that commission approved and shipped a priority list of 18 recommendations to the mayor -- but not before members argued at length about number nine: the construction of a 1,320-foot-long boardwalk similar to the one at Silver Sands State Park in Milford.
"One of the reasons I got involved in this is for the boardwalk," said Chairman Patrick Gribbon, in response to two members who wanted the omission of Milford's boardwalk in the wording of the recommendation. "We voted on this in August [and during the] last two meetings it wasn't brought up."
Commission member John Zbell said there was a change made after that vote to include the reference of Milford's boardwalk. Either way, he said, he approves of a similar boardwalk.
Other members, however, said the comparison to Milford's beach and boardwalk is not applicable to Long Beach West, a unique barrier beach that borders a wildlife refuge.
"I don't think there's enough land to build a boardwalk like Milford," said Marcia Stewart, president of Protect Your Environment. "The barrier beach is very small and the middle section is where diamondback turtles nest and you're going to build a boardwalk on them."
"These are priorities everyone voted on," Gribbon answered. "The maximum width would be 12 feet. The [Department of Energy and Environmental Protection] told me it would take people off the conservation area."
"I want people to come back from the boardwalk and say 'that's terrific,'" he added.
"I'm not opposed to a boardwalk approved by regulatory agencies [but] Milford is indeed a different situation," said Milan Bull, a commission member from the Connecticut Audubon Society, "It's like comparing apples and oranges … I'd say let DEEP and regulatory agencies decide the length."
"Milford's boardwalk is built to last 100 years," Gribbon said.
"So will I-95," Bull said.
"Why is there so much hate for the Milford boardwalk?" Gribbon asked select members of his commission. "I think you're being obstructive. If I'm wrong, stab me."
"Your job is to steer this commission," Bull said. "You are suppose to take the consensus."
In the end, the promise of provisions eased the nerves of the commission and the recommendation was included with the Milford model. "The vision offers provisions for what [Gribbon] is saying, to meet statutes, regulations," Zbell said.
After the list of priorities receives input from the mayor, the Town Council, other groups in town and the public, it will be the responsibility of a stewardship to follow that 'vision.' The list has not yet been made public. The number one priority, however, is entryway improvements, Gribbon said.
"The stewardship is set up to work on its own," said the chairman, who compared it to an organization that runs a trust at Boothe Memorial Park. "They would work as an advisory group."
Gribbon added, "I will tell the mayor we'd be happy to present this to the Town Council, to the public."
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