Milford officials skip beach event
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Monday, Dec. 10, cut a ceremonial ribbon signaling the final phase of the $10 million in controversial improvements to Silver Sands State Park here.
But on a sunny, frigid late-fall morning on the seasonally uncrowded state beach, Malloy, in one of his final visits to the city before leaving office, got the cold shoulder from local officials who opposed the project for years, and even attempted to kill the plan in the General Assembly.
State and local lawmakers gave a miss to the brief event, featuring a blue ribbon, an oversized pair of scissors and a bevy of contractors and state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection employees.
“It was a fight to get this approved,” Malloy admitted during a news conference on the Silver Sands boardwalk, near the new concession building, changing rooms and office that are set back on piles about 100 yards away from the beach and are scheduled to be ready for Memorial Day weekend 2019. “Our parks are meant to be used by everyone. People ought to have good facilities.”
The plan, including small entrance buildings and a garage/workshop area, goes back decades, said DEEP Commissioner Rob Klee, noting that the final construction has environmental resilience, including the pilings and platforms that lift the new structures above the marsh behind the beach.
The beach annually attracts a quarter million visitors.
Seventh-term state Sen. Gayle S. Slossberg, D-Milford, one of the staunchest opponents to the project, said Monday that local officials are now resigned to the improvements.
“The build-out wasn’t necessary, and at a time when there were proposals to eliminate education funding for our town, there was a bitter irony that we would spent the money on concession stands and a 5,000-square-foot garage,” she said in a phone interview. “This is a quiet, naturalized park. The environmental impact statement they used was 24 years old and needed an update. At some point, this battle didn’t go the way the people in our community wanted, but you have to move on.”
The friction between Milford and Malloy reached a crescendo in 2017 when the governor overcame legislative opposition to the long-term bonding for the project, then proposed cutting education funding for 85 affluent towns, including Milford, during a summer-long budget impasse in the State Capitol.
Mayor Ben Blake said Monday that he had been unaware of the event, but admitted there may still be some tension between the city and state over the issue.
“There are much better ways to spend $10 million, especially when the state is in dire need of funding,” Blake said in an afternoon phone call. “Silver Sands was more of a natural type of environment. We were willing to work with the installation of a few bathrooms, but the size and scope of the plan became large.”
One of the issues — the possibility of increased roadside traffic in adjacent residential neighborhoods — may have been defused by last summer’s initiation of the Passport to Parks program, which allows cars with Connecticut license plates to park for free in all state parks. “Overall, we still have concerns on the size, scope and need for this expansion,” Blake said.
The pre-noon event on Monday attracted contractors, environmental conservation officers, DEEP officials and a few random passersby out for beach walks on a cold autumn day.
Claus Brandes, a retired bank manager out for a couple-mile stroll, said he will appreciate the better lavatories, which he said he seems to need more often, at age 73.
“I have always had a problem finding a place here to, you know, fulfill those duties,” Brandes said. The new facilities replace portable toilets that Klee, the DEEP commissioner, described as scary.
Brandes said he was disappointed that no local officials attended the governor’s event. He think it will be a good thing to generate more visitors to the city.
“I think it’s a beautiful spot and I love it very much,” Brandes said.