Arguably, Long Island Sound is the town’s most valuable natural resource.
It was the primary means our forefathers used when they settled here, it is a major provider of commerce, transportation, recreation, a food source and one of the most significant reasons people choose to live here. Connecticut has recently turned its a focus on state harbors as a way to increase the state’s economic development.
Our town residents use the Sound for boating and fishing, swimming, walking, viewing and general enjoyment. And while the town does offer many other reasons to move and live here, access to the water is high on most people’s list, otherwise they might just as well opt for Harrison, New York, or New Canaan. Plus, the town is spending resources to promote our community in the media and has hired a public relations firm to aid in that effort.
If you don’t think our waterways are an important town resource, just look at the records of the town tax assessor and see how much more a home is assessed when on the water vs. backcountry. Or ask your local Realtor. Or compare the cost of a home in Greenwich to a similar home in a nearby landlocked community.
So why is the Harbor Management commission trying to undermine the appeal of our greatest natural resource?
It is well known that our harbors are filling in and desperately need a dredge. The commission reports that the last dredge of Greenwich Harbor was in 1968, 50 years ago! It is obviously through neglect that the town hasn’t sought to preserve this resource by having it dredged more frequently, though that hasn’t stopped them from collecting fees to use our waters.
The area known as “The Gut,” and shown as Bush Harbor on nautical charts, is a Federal Harbor of refuge to the west of Roger Sherman Baldwin Park. This is an important resource, authorized by Congress, to help preserve life and property in the event of a major storm. It has an authorized depth of 6’ + 1’ (i.e. a 6 foot dredge with an overbite of 1 foot, at mean low water, to account for any errors.) Unfortunately, it has been filled in from storm run-off to the point that it is a mud flat at low tide and can hardly function as a needed storm refuge or even an area for additional moorings. Yet the commission has suggested, though not in its recent letter, that it gets filled in permanently to expand Roger Sherman Baldwin Park.
In 1952 the town’s Planning and Zoning commission prepared a plan to expand town docks at RSB Park and Greenwich Harbor and showing federally authorized depths. Nevertheless, the Harbor Management commission is opting to preclude this expansion and ignore maintenance of these authorized depths.
While our parks are an important resource, RSB Park is used only on occasion and never really fills up except for the town Party, whereas boats could be using it for moorings and as the intended Harbor of Refuge on an ongoing basis.
The Gut was filled in after a 7-1/2-foot rainfall on April 15, 2007. If the commission were to have its way and fill in this area, rather than dredge it, where would the water go? And couldn’t a future large downpour eviscerate the land making it unusable as a park or creating a major expense to recondition it?
As if that weren’t enough, the commission is planning on dredging the main channel in Greenwich Harbor to a depth of only 10- feet, rather than the 12’+1=13’ that is authorized. With a shallower channel, we are subject to getting silted in sooner rather than later, and larger boats, which used to visit and spend money in the local economy but no longer can, would not be able to consistently gain access on all tides sending them and their money, elsewhere.
As some may know, there was a recent attempt to bring back match racing on America’s Cup 12-meter boats. Unfortunately this plan had to be scrapped because these magnificent boats regularly ran aground in the main channel! The main channel just south of Indian Harbor Yacht Club can have depths of well under 8 feet at low tides. This cuts off access to many boats of all sizes, not just “mega yachts.”
The area between Indian Harbor Yacht Club and Round Island to the west and continuing north to Grass Island and Greenwich Boat and Yacht Club is a Federal Navigation Project locally known as Area 5. It has an authorized depth of 8’+1’. This area contains a mooring field for Indian Harbor Yacht Club, additional moorings controlled by the town, and a critical access channel to the Greenwich Boat and Yacht Club, a town facility.
This area routinely has depths of under 4 feet! Boats regularly run aground in the accumulated silt. As it continues to fill in, it will greatly impact the ability of many of the boats to use GBYC, an important town asset enjoyed by hundreds of town residents. And note too, that all the boats in GBYC as well as those on Grass Island and other town boating facilities pay a “launch fee” for the privilege of gaining access through a town facility. If these boats can no longer get the access they need, there goes the town’s revenue from launch fees. So residents will suffer and the town will suffer.
The commission claims that part of the reason to dredge less than the federally authorized limits is due to contaminants found in the harbor, principally in The Gut, which would require a costly upland disposal. Some of those contaminants are PCB’s, a known cancer-causing chemical. The fill that came into The Gut emanated upland and was carried down by Horseneck Brook, where the brook terminates. I have heard of two businesses that have used PCB’s in their operation and sit upstream and near Horseneck Brook and might be the potential source of some of the contamination. But has the commission sought to find the polluter and hold them accountable for the cleanup?
Would we really want those contaminants to stay in the harbor where they could continue to accumulate and migrate downstream, or should we get rid of them once and for all. Just look at the fiasco going on at the high school to see how the town buries its head in the sand when you mention the word “contaminants.”
The commission sent out a letter concerning this proposed dredge, dated July 19, 2018 and addressed it to town Harbormaster Ian Macmillan looking for comments by Sept. 1. The letter contains the salutation, “Dear Property Owner.” While Ian is a town resident, he is not a property owner. However, I am a property owner yet I never received this letter. Further, this proposed dredge affects all residents, not just property owners. So who actually received this letter and why was it addressed to Ian? Inquiring minds want to know.
This is just another example of the commission’s attempts at subterfuge and their failure to protect and enhance our town’s most valuable natural resource. While the commission collects mooring fees from a select few, a very small percentage of boaters who use our harbor, they refuse to assess all users. Furthermore, they have collected more than $250,000 in fees yet fail to show a purpose for the war chest they have accumulated, defying federal regulations on the collection of funds in a federal project. How tragic that our harbors are being allowed to go to waste while the commission plays its petty games.
Thank goodness we have Ian as our harbormaster to be a watchdog and try to protect all of our interests.
Gary Silberberg is a former member of the Harbor Management commission. He is a 30-year town resident, a boater, the former chairman of the Selectmen’s Harbor Management Advisory Committee and has taught numerous Power Squadron courses.