“Block the Dock” Succeeds

Mary Johnson PhotoThe “dock to nowhere” isn’t going anywhere. 

The Pawson Park neighborhood’s “Block the Dock” campaign has led to the withdrawal of an application to build a dock on Branford’s Sunset Beach.

“We are thrilled,” said Edward Zelinsky, an attorney and Pawson Park resident who volunteered his services to the 100 families who have access to the beach.

Zelinsky and his wife Doris were notified by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) on Monday that the application had been withdrawn. The action was taken by the couple who proposed building the dock, Francis X. Conlon II and his wife, Susan DeGrand Conlon, of 150 Pawson Road.

“It was a gracious and intelligent decision,” Zelinsky said. “I want to give the Conlons credit.” He emphasized that the group’s efforts were not personal. “It was always about the beach.”

Opponents of the dock said it would be a safety hazard to boaters and beach-users and have a negative impact on the environment. The proposal called for an elevated 40-foot long fixed pier, a 40-foot long ramp, and a 12-by-20 foot floating dock.  Zelinsky dubbed the project a “dock to nowhere,” saying it would be useless most of the time because of low tides.

The decision by the Conlons to withdraw the application came after an environmental and coastal expert hired by the neighbors issued a critical analysis on the impact of the dock. 

Susan Conlon declined comment on withdrawing the application.  In an interview last summer, she said the proposed dock would not cause a negative impact.

Neighbors began to rally last June after learning that the DEEP had given tentative approval to build the dock, pending further study. They signed petitions, contacted the state agency and posted signs in their yards.

In July, the group learned the DEEP acknowledged their concerns and took the unusual step of requiring a public hearing. The hearing would have been scheduled after the DEEP completed their analysis of the proposed project.

“This worked because there was broad community support,” Zelinsky told the Eagle. “It was grass-roots democracy at its best.”

Zelinsky extended thanks to everyone who rallied to save the beach, including the families who contributed funds to pay for the expert environmental consultant who compiled an analysis of beach and the proposed dock.

The 12-page report, which was submitted to the DEEP two weeks ago, was compiled by Jennifer O’Donnell, the principal engineer and CEO of Coastal Ocean Analytics, based in Noank.  O’Donnell has a doctorate degree in engineering from the University of Cambridge in England, and a master’s degree in coastal and ocean engineering from the University of Delaware.

O’Donnell’s report concluded: “Based on our preliminary analysis of observations of water level and wave conditions, the construction of the fixed pier and floating dock will only provide access to the ocean 10% of the time, and then for only a small, shallow draft boat. Note, this is not a 10% increase over access without the proposed structure, but rather may be a decrease in access since a boat moored to the proposed dock may be less accessible during some tidal and wave conditions than a boat launched from shore.”

The report further stated: “Throughout the day, the proposed dock will preclude the operation of small boats around Trinity Rock by the public and will reduce the number of options for landing small boats at the beach at low water. Together with the visual impact, the likely habitat damage due to the construction and presence of the dock in an area of “significant natural communities”, the negative consequences of this proposal are substantial. In summary, the proposed pier and dock will not increase the owners’ access to navigable water and thus does not warrant the costs to the public trust lands.”

Zelinsky said the report confirms the beliefs of the neighbors. In addition, he said the damage to the Pawson Park neighborhood during Tropical Storm Irene was “testament” to the fragility of the Sunset Beach area during coastal storms. Irene’s storm surge washed out large chunks of the Linden Avenue roadway, which is the only access for families in the Indian Neck and Pawson Park peninsula areas.

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. According to state mandates, the stretch of beach in question is public property because it lies beyond the mean high tide line.

Susan Jacobson, of the DEEP’s Office of Long Island Sound Programs, said the Conlons did not give a reason for withdrawing the application. Jacobson said the state agency asked the Conlons for additional information regarding the project, but they chose instead to withdraw the application. She said it would be possible that an application could be resubmitted in the future.

The DEEP’s Office of Long Island Sound Programs has jurisdiction over dock construction in the state.

The Conlons have been attempting to build a dock since 2006, but their previous applications to the state agency were not approved.


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posted by: Lori Nicholson on December 6, 2011  10:25pm

This has been a long drawn out battle and I am so thankful that the pristine beach will remain so. The dock was never a good idea for a dozen different reasons and having expert testimony paid for by concerned neighbors saved our beach for the time being. I don’t want Branford’s shoreline to look like Port Jefferson with rotting and damaged docks no one has ever cleaned up. This was great news!