For as long as anyone living at White Sands Beach can remember, the town of Old Lyme has always plowed the roads in and around their private beach association when it snowed.
That changed this year as the Old Lyme Board of Selectmen decided to take a long, hard look at which roads the town's public works department was plowing. The town is only obligated to plow official roads. Over the years, however, it has sometimes plowed private or unofficial town roads. But it didn't seem fair that Old Lyme Public Works Department would plow some roads but not all, or that taxpayers were footing the bill to plow private roads.
Technically, Old Lyme isn't responsible for any roads in private beach associations because these operate as quasi-municipalities, levying their own taxes and maintaining their own infrastructure. White Sands, however, is an exception because a large section of its beach is open to the public and the town has a municipal parking lot at White Sands that is used by town residents year-round.
Who Is On The Road?
Since September, the Old Lyme Board of Selectmen and White Sands Beach Association have been going back and forth on whether the town should be responsible for plowing. But even though the first snow is on the ground, neither entity seems any closer to finding a resolution to the problem.
Old Lyme is essentially one property owner among many at White Sands. As Old Lyme First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder put it, the town is like one home owner that happens to have "a very, very large family." But does that mean it should bear the sole responsibility for plowing out all of its neighbors?
White Sands Beach Association President Peter Bialobrzeski argues that it should, because the majority of traffic in the winter comes from townspeople going to the beach. The association has approximately 130 members but only 20 of them are year-round residents. On a nice weekend in mid-winter, however, White Sands' permanent residents say the town's parking lot is full.
The Board of Selectmen initially suggested the town might continue plowing White Sands Road, which is the direct route to the town's parking lot at the beach. But at last night's Board of Selectmen's meeting, Bialobrzeski said that people don't just drive up and down White Sands Road. Because of the layout of the parking lot, he said, they typically come down White Sands and take different routes to exit, which presents a liability problem if people are traveling down roads that haven't been plowed.
During the summer, the side roads are closed off by gates to all but residents. But Old Lyme's emergency services prefer the roads be kept open during the off-season to give them easier access and it makes the roads easier to plow too.
"We really don't have the ability to control which roads the townspeople travel on," Bialobrzeski said, which is why he maintains that the town should plow all the roads.
Proposals and Counter Offers
The town initially said it might be willing to plow all the roads if the association removed all the speed bumps to make the job easier. Bialobrzeski said the association had investigated that option but determined it would be cost-prohibitive and, besides, the speed bumps are needed during the busy summer months to slow traffic on roads where children play.
Until now, the town and the association had what Selectman Skip Sibley termed a "gentleman's agreement." As Bialobrzeski described it, the town plowed in the winter and because of that the association took care of all other maintenance, such as filling in potholes or repaving.
Now it seems a more formal agreement is needed. White Sands Beach Association's latest proposal is to put a contract for snow plowing out to bid and ask the town to pay half. The Board of Selectmen said last night that would be something the Board of Finance would have to sign off on, although Reemsnyder didn't hold out much hope that the board would do so if it had no say over who got the contract.
At this rate, an agreement seems unlikely before spring.