Work starts on $9.1 million Silver Sands State Park project

Construction has started at Silver Sands State Park on a controversial $9.1 million project. But State Rep. Kim Rose said she still hopes to stop it, or at least scale it back.

Last week huge pilings sat at the site, and this week an East Broadway resident said the sound of a pile driver could be heard for several days, ringing throughout the area.

“A construction crew is working behind the sand berm at the beach,” said resident William Whitcomb. “The building used by lifeguards is gone, and a pile driver is pounding pilings into the ground.”

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) plans to add public bathrooms, changing areas, a building for lifeguards and law enforcement offices, and a snack bar with a wraparound deck, plus additional parking space as part of the multi-million dollar plan.

DEEP spokesman Chris Collibee said the work is expected to be completed more than a year from now, by Memorial Day of 2019.

Restrooms are sorely needed, he said, pointing out that park-goers until now have only had the option of using portable bathrooms. A snack stand will allow visitors to grab something to eat and drink at the park.

“It will certainly improve the overall park experience,” Collibee said, adding that of the four shoreline state parks — Hammonasset, Sherwood Island, Rocky Neck and Silver Sands — Silver Sands is the only one without facilities.

Residents here in Milford, as well as city leaders, have been speaking against the plans since 2015, arguing about environmental impacts and the possibility of park-goers parking on city streets, such as East Broadway, rather than paying a fee to park inside the park.

But thanks to a new state initiative, Passport to Parks — funded by an additional $10 car registration fee — Milford residents will not have to pay to drive into the park when the construction is completed. Neither will other state residents. Only out-of-state residents will have to pay to get through the gate.

Collibee said the DEEP is aware of efforts to stop construction and is paying attention to a public hearing Friday on a bill proposed by State Rep. Kim Rose that would at least scale back the project.

“At this point, construction has started,” Collibee said, arguing that it doesn’t make sense to stop a project on which money has already been spent.

“We hope the legislators understand the importance of this project,” he said.

House Bill 5088, proposed by Rose and co-sponsored by State Rep. Charles Ferraro and Pam Staneski, proposes the cancellation of bond money that hasn’t yet been spent on the project.

Rose said she doesn’t oppose all aspects of the Silver Sands project, such as the restrooms. But she has concerns about the storage facility and office space for DEEP employees, saying, “I don’t think we even have that many employees left.”

In a written commentary about her proposed bill, Rose said, “It’s difficult for others who either do not live in Milford or go to Silver Sands to understand that this is an environmental issue, a pristine natural area that should remain that way. Bonding this much money is irresponsible for a project that is a luxury.”

Last year, Rose led House passage of a bill that would have put the project at Silver Sands on hold for at least two years. Because of time constraints, however, the bill did not make it through the Senate.