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State Moves to Evict Elderly Squatter

September 11, 1989

MILFORD, Conn. (AP) _ A feisty 72-year-old woman who has lived on the proposed site of a state park for nearly two decades is hoping to stop an attempt to evict her by appealing to a judge’s sense of fair play.

Eighteen years ago, Doris Gagnon was forced to abandon her cottage a few hundred yards away so the state could raze it and other beachside residences to make way for a park.

But the proposed 300-acre park along Long Island Sound is yet to take shape.

Although the state this month received an Army Corps of Engineers permit to seal a long-closed landfill on the property, state officials said last week a master plan for the park remains uncompleted.

″The test of whether she is ultimately going to win or lose depends on how good a human being we happen to get in the judge who is ultimately assigned to the case,″ said her attorney, John R. Williams. ″The basic core of our defense is that what they are doing is unfair.″

State officials say they take no pleasure in seeking to evict Gagnon but have a responsibility to protect public land and provide more recreational opportunities for the public along Long Island Sound.

Gagnon’s homestead lies about 100 feet from shore, on a sandy plot hidden on three sides by tall marsh grass. She lives in a dilapidated 18-foot camper and shacks with no running water or telephone. Chicken-wire fencing surrounds the property, where cats, dogs, chickens, geese and ducks also stay.

Her lawyer has asked for an injunction that would enable Gagnon to remain in her home at least five more years.

″The state has no real pressing need for that land Doris is living on,″ Williams said. ″Doris has a critical need for it. I think her life would be so profoundly changed it would probably be shortened if she were thrown off it.″

In November, authorities served notice on Gagnon that they wanted her off the land. The first court hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in Superior Court in Derby, when the state will seek to have Gagnon’s counterclaims and several so-called special defenses dismissed.

″This is not a fun thing. We obviously are getting a lot of static but it is something that has to be done. It probably should have been done many years ago,″ says William Delaney, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Financing, environmental and political problems all have been blamed for the delay in developing the property.

The state finally moved to force Gagnon from her property because of a complaint filed by the Milford Health Department after its inspectors discovered bags of sewage piled up behind her living quarters.

State officials said they believe Gagnon would be better off elsewhere. But Gagnon has said she is happy in her home, and would only consider moving if the state awarded her millions of dollars for driving her away and then doing nothing with the land.

Gagnon spends much time visiting friends, who let her shower at their homes and use other amenities. She was not home during a visit to her compound this weekend. A large plywood sign was posted, however, telling her supporters of the time and location of her hearing.

She has been battling the state since the mid-1960s, when officials bought and demolished about 100 cottages to create a park. Gagnon refused to sell, but a judge in May 1969 ruled the state would be able to take her property through eminent domain.

Her cottage was demolished in 1971, and she refused to accept a $15,000 payment for her property.

State officials have said it would take at least three years to complete the park, adding that Gagnon’s home would not be in the way of the project to build an entrance road and seal the landfill.

″Doris is not a young person, and if they think it’s going to take a long time, why not let her live out her years in peace,″ her lawyer said.

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