A “Block the Dock” campaign is sailing through Branford’s Pawson Park neighborhood as residents rally to prevent a dock from being built on Sunset Beach.
“The fundamental issue is that it’s a dock to nowhere,” said Edward Zelinsky, as he explained that the dock would be useless much of the time because of low tides.
Zelinsky, an attorney whose home is near the proposed dock, has volunteered to represent the neighbors at no cost. “It’s an absolute safety hazard,” he said, observing that the dock would divide the beach and have a significant impact on boating, beach-users, and the environment.
“This is a magnificent jewel of a beach.” The beach is filled with very small light colored assorted rocks, not pebbles and not sand.
More than 100 people signed a petition opposing the dock that would run across the beach to the side of Trinity Rock. (See photo above). The current proposal calls for an elevated 40-foot long fixed pier, a 40-foot long ramp, and a 12-foot by 20-foot floating dock. The original proposal called for a 170-foot long pier.
Many have posted “Block the Dock” signs in their front yards and have written letters to the state Department of Environmental Protection after learning that the DEP had given tentative approval to the plans.
Perhaps the most unusual of the signs appears by way of a neighborhood statue, much beloved in the community and created by resident wood carver Robert Reutenauer.
The dock is being proposed by Francis X. Conlon II and his wife, Susan DeGrand Conlon, of 150 Pawson Rd. They are longtime residents.
“The neighbors’ concerns are without merit,” Susan Conlon told the Eagle in a telephone interview. She said the DEP has all the information on file.
She declined to discuss the project in detail but did say, “I see it as being no public threat to boaters or people walking on the beach.”
A copy of the Conlon’s DEP application, prepared by an environmental firm, states the project will not result in any significant impacts to the area.
The Conlons have been attempting to build a dock since 2006, but their previous applications to the DEP were not approved. The size of the dock has been reduced from previous proposals. Francis Conlon is a certified public accountant in North Haven. Susan DeGrand Conlon is a vice president at John DeGrand & Son Inc., a family trucking company in West Haven.
Zelinsky has contacted the DEP with the group’s concerns. “There is a statute that protects us … They have to consider the rights and concerns of the neighbors.” He said the stretch of beach is public property because it lies beyond the mean high tide line.
Brian Thompson, director of the DEP’s Office of Long Island Sound Programs (OLISP), said people sometimes send comments opposing construction of a dock, but not to this extent. OLISP has jurisdiction over dock placement in the state.
“This is not typical,” Thompson said. “This one has a significant amount of comments.”
He said the DEP is only required to hold a public hearing on dock issues if they impact a coastal wetland and if at least 25 people sign a petition requesting a hearing. Sunset Beach is not a coastal wetland. He said it is possible that a public meeting may be scheduled soon since there is so much interest in the project.
Thompson said the DEP did issue a “notice of tentative determination” in April, but asked the Conlons for additional information. “We’re now in the process of reviewing that updated application,” he said.
About 20 neighbors held an impromptu gathering on Sunset Beach over the weekend to express their concerns to the Eagle.
Sarah Greene, who grew up in the neighborhood, says tide pools form during low tide along a popular outcropping known as Trinity Rock. Neighbors claim the rock would be adversely impacted by the dock.
“There are all kinds of wildlife there that I’ve never seen anywhere in the Sound. I’ve seen seahorses there,” Greene said. “I think a dock will destroy that ecosystem.”
She said the water is so shallow on Sunset Beach during low tide that a boat couldn’t be brought in to the dock for at least half of the day. “You can’t override Mother Nature,” she said.
Susan Kirby, who grew up playing on the beach and often returns there when visiting family, said the neighbors are not trying to be negative. “We are against the dock, but most of all, we are for the beach,” Kirby said. “We want to save the beach more than anything else.”
She recalls learning to surf at Sunset Beach, where waves can reach more than eight feet when a storm is approaching. “It’s the best surfing spot on the beach when there’s a storm coming,” Kirby said, explaining that they know the area and can navigate it safely. “We know where the rocks are.”
Residents say storms can take a toll on boats moored off the shoreline because the beach faces the southwest and the prevailing winds are southwesterly.
“The reason there are no docks here is because the sea is so capricious,” said Eve Fowler, who lives nearby.
“We’re directly on the water. It can be very fierce here,” Zelinsky said. “Boats are going to get pushed into this dock.”
Zelinsky’s wife, Doris Zelinsky, said Sunset Beach is designated for both registered and transient mooring, so it is often used by boaters who don’t live there. Boats are moored in deeper water, and dinghies are used for access. This is typically how boaters get to their boats in beach communities.
“It’s going to be much more dangerous getting in and out of the area because of the dock,” Doris Zelinsky claimed “It will create a dangerous situation.”
She said neighbors are friendly and often gather for pot-luck dinners and strolls along the beach. People know each other because of the multi-generational families.”
She said opposition to the dock issue has been unifying. About 100 families have access to the beach.
“This is a grass-roots effort. Neighbors are genuinely outraged,” Doris Zelinsky said.
“Nobody is against the woman. We’re just against what she wants to build.”
A longtime resident of the shoreline, who asked not to be identified, said she was surprised to learn about the dock because the Conlons are very good neighbors.
“I was shocked and very sad,” she said. “The beach was always open to everybody…it would destroy the beauty of the beach,” she said. “I don’t see how a boat can even get in there.”
Zelinsky is hoping that the DEP will schedule a public meeting to discuss the issues. However, he said if the dock is eventually approved, he will file a lawsuit. Zelinsky is a professor of law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City.
Bob Schroeder, who lives nearby, said if the dock is built there will be an immediate impact on aesthetics and the environment and a long-range effect as well.
“Once you alter the nature of this beach…this landscape will be lost forever,” Schroeder said. “It’s a short term advantage for one family and a long-term disadvantage for many.”