City plans to hire open space manager to protect city parks

Milford has 500 properties totaling 2,500 acres of open space, yet has no one to manage these areas — until now, as long as the city's aldermen give their final approval.
The Planning and Zoning Board unanimously agreed at its Aug. 21 meeting to a proposal from Mayor Benjamin G. Blake to spend $45,000 from its Open Space Funds account “for the purpose of retaining the service of an open space and natural resource agent to maintain, preserve, and monitor usage of the city's open space.” The fund currently has $238,000.

Blake said this is intended as a one-time use of the open space funds, as he hopes the position would become self-supporting. The intent is for the open space agent to apply for grant funds that would continue to pay for the position.
The mayor said the details of the position are being worked out, including how many hours the person would work in a week. He said the person would be an “at will” employee and would not receive any benefits, only the salary. Blake said the open space funds come from developers, so there is no cost to taxpayers.
“We made a significant investment in our open space,” said Blake. “We want to make sure we protect it.”
Letitia Malone, chairperson of the Open Space Advisory Committee, said the aldermen still need to give the position a final OK, and she expects the matter will come up at the Sept. 10 Board of Aldermen's meeting.
Malone presented three examples of how natural areas have been damaged by vandals. At the city-owned reservoir property on Bridgeport Avenue, she said people have set up illegal campsites.
Malone said the city used $10,000 in funding from the Iroquois pipeline project to install interpretive signs at the Mondo Ponds property off Naugatuck Avenue, only to see them “absolutely destroyed.” Officials decided not to replace the signs, fearing they would meet a similar fate.
At the former Solomon Property off West River Street, she said all-terrain vehicles have “run roughshod,” causing extensive damage from erosion, she said.
“This made it apparent we could no longer depend on volunteers,” said Malone.
Blake said the open space funds can only be used to acquire or maintain open space. He said an environmental study of Eisenhower Park said no maintenance has been performed on the park in 40 years.
“There is a desperate need,” said Blake.
He said one component of grant applications for open space is detailing how the city would take care of its acquired land. Currently, he said the city cannot complete this part of the application, as it does not have an open space agent.
Blake said the first focus of the position would be creating an inventory of existing open space, information that would be used in applying for grant funds.
“This is not a study. This is action,” said Blake.
Another component of the job would be creating “shovel ready” projects that would be completed by volunteer groups, such as Boy Scouts or local students. Blake said these groups wish to help, but are often discouraged by having to go through the permitting process. Instead, the open space agent would go through that process and have projects that are ready to go.
In making the motion to approve the new position, board member Jeanne Cervin said the position fits in with the city's Plan of Conservation and Development.
“I think the city has needed this for a very long time,” said Cervin.