TB beach access bills in General Assembly are doomed

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Suburban members of the General Assembly have apparently succeeded again in derailing efforts to force Connecticut’s coastal towns to make it easier for outsiders to enjoy the sand and sun along Long Island Sound.

A bill which would have prohibited communities that receive state support for roads from restricting access to parking near public beaches and recreational and scenic areas, was massively amended behind closed doors in the Houses Legislative Committee. transport – the day of its expiry – and transformed into a study of the question .

And the co-chair of the planning and development committee said on Thursday that related legislationwhich would ban beach towns from charging access fees greater than 50% of those paid by residents, will die without a vote on Friday, at its last scheduled meeting before its legislative deadline.

For State Rep. Roland Lemar, co-chair of the Transportation Committee, it was another defeat to one of his legislative goals in recent years.

“Based on the advice of committee members on both sides of the aisle, instead of proceeding with the bill as originally drafted, we have before the committee a study bill. “, Lemar told the panel. The legislation is now nearly identical to a bill that was approved by the Legislative Planning and Development Committee last year, but died without a vote in either the House or the Senate.

If approved by both houses before the midnight May 4 deadline, it would require the Office of State Policy and Management, as well as the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. environment, are jointly studying beach and park access issues adjacent to both state and municipally owned marine and tidal waters.

“I think this will bring us closer to the point where we each understand the respective differences of some of our beach communities, but shared access goals that I think are due to every Connecticut resident,” Lemar told members. of the committee in a hybrid meeting. during which some lawmakers met in the Hartford Legislative Office building and others connected virtually.

“Especially since almost every one of these Long Island Sound beaches receives substantial state and federal assistance that is paid for by every taxpayer, I think it shouldn’t be that hard for a kid in Sprague or Hartford or Waterbury or the ‘one of over 100 towns in the state that don’t have access to the beach, to get there in a summer,’ Lemar said. ‘I respect that the ideas presented earlier in the session do not share the support of the members of this committee at this time. I wish they would.

Lemar noted that an earlier study found that 80% of waterfront properties are privately owned. Public access along these properties is limited to land between low tide and the high tide line.

While most testimony opposed the original legislation at a recent committee hearing on the proposal, citing very limited parking, the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut backed the bill as a way to confront the history of racial discrimination in public spaces.

“I believe very strongly that communities, including the community I represent, have been put on notice that the legislature is watching this matter,” said state Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, co-chair of the committee. “Let’s be honest, the community I represent, where you have to shell out close to $800 if you’re an out-of-town resident looking for a season pass, it’s unaffordable.

State Sen. Steve Meskers, D-Greenwich, joined Republicans in opposing the revised bill, which then heads to the House floor.

State Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vehey, D-Fairfield, co-chair of the planning and development committee, said Lemar’s committee study bill would also investigate the issue of beach parking rates. “Rep. Lemar has been a champion on this issue and because the transportation committee was already advancing a study bill, we made the decision not to act,” said McCarthy Vehey, who also sits on the committee. transports.

In recent testimony, suburban residents across the state spoke out against both bills. Fred Camillo, first manager of Greenwich testimonial submitted to the planning committee saying that the city fee for non-residents “is both fair and necessary because we maintain our parks and beaches without state or federal assistance.”

“Demanding and imposing that we reduce fees would essentially be asking residents of our city to subsidize non-resident use,” Camillo said.

Last year, Greenwich charged $40 per car, plus $9 per person per visit. Fairfield charged nonresidents about $250 for the season, and Stamford sold beach access to outsiders for $292. Westport charged non-residents a whopping $775 for the season.

The Stamford Board of Representatives recently drafted a resolution urging Mayor Caroline Simmons’ administration and state lawmakers who represent the city to oppose both proposals in the General Assembly.

“These are decisions that we as a board have crafted in excruciating detail over the past few years,” Republican City Rep. David Watkins said of Stamford’s parking permit fees. The legislative proposals in Hartford “would erase all that work,” he said.

“I’m not discussing here what the right rules for non-resident fees should be. I’m not discussing here what kind of residential parking permit program we should or shouldn’t have,” Watkins said of the request as he presented the resolution to a committee of the Council of Representatives. “What I’m saying here is that it’s vital that our administration and our legislative delegates tell Hartford, ‘This is a local thing. It’s a business that we in our city are equipped to handle and will handle appropriately.

Simmons did not submit testimony for either proposal. But Lauren Meyer, Simmons’ director of policy and legislative affairs, said she told members of the Stamford delegation that the administration was concerned about the language as drafted in the two bills.

“I think, as Rep. Watkins indicated, the idea of ​​removing local control of these items was of concern to us,” Meyer said. “We want to make sure everyone has access to our beaches, but… we are aware of the congestion issues, the parking issues that exist in these areas.”

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