Stiff opposition grounds Beacon Falls land management ordinance

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BEACON FALLS – A new land management ordinance was shot down Monday night in a town hall vote.

The Conservation Commission drafted the ordinance in an effort to protect open space and limit liability on town land, according to First Selectman Sue Cable.

The commission currently has no official guidelines to spell out its responsibilities, according to Chris Bielik, a commission member.

“Right now, it’s very, very much in doubt,” Bielik said.

This latest draft of the ordinance was intended to quell fears that it gave the commission too much authority over other town commissions. But, it fell short in the eyes of opponents. Much of the opposition came from the Parks and Recreation Department.

Lisa Swanson, chair of the Parks and Recreation Commission, said that the regulation infringes on the jurisdiction of her department.

“I really don’t see a need for this document,” she said.

Joe Rodorigo, a member of the parks and recreation commission, said the ordinance implies the ruling body would be the Conservation Commission, even though that was not the intent.

In a letter to Cable, attorney Steven Byrne, who helped draft the legislation, wrote “This ordinance was drafted to be consistent with the powers provided to the Conservation Commission by state law and town ordinance.”

The letter went on to state that the commission would have authority to manage town land designated by the Board of Selectman, reducing the chance of conflict with other commissions.

The proposed ordinance stated, “Nothing in this ordinance should be interpreted as denying the authority of a town agency to adopt rules and regulations for town owned land assigned to it for management.”

The proposal included wording that stated such regulations should be referred to the Conservation Commission to ensure there is not conflict between various commissions.

“I think it just adds another layer of bureaucracy to keep things from getting done,” said Alison Sirowich, a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission.

The regulations would have given the Conservation Commission authority to supervise the location and construction of trails and overnight camping spots.

Cable, who supported the bill, said the ultimate authority would be, as it should be, with the Board of Selectmen.

Diane Betkowski, chair of the Conservation Commission, said that the commission is governed by the state’s general statutes, which state that the commission has no authority.

“The purpose of the Conservation Commission is simply to advise. Basically, the Conservation Commission is the conscience of our financial resources,” she said.

In managing open space, they would evaluate town property and make recommendations for possible use, she said.

She said they brought drafts of the regulations to the Land Use Board, which is made up of representatives from every town board.

“There has been input,” she said.

The last section of the regulation is at attempt to limit the town’s responsibility for injuries incurred on public land.

Rodorigo said that a bill currently before the state legislature would limit towns’ liability for injury on public land, rendering the ordinance unnecessary.

“It would make this document null and void by the end of May,” he said.

He called the ordinance a flawed document which doesn’t clearly state its intent.

Selectman Michael Krenesky said he supported the part of the ordinance that limits liability, but was concerned that other parts may be in conflict with state statutes.

Cable responded that the state statutes supersede any town ordinance.

The ordinance was voted down in a show of hands, 11 to 7.

Betkoski said she didn’t expect the opposition to the ordinance. The Conservation Commission will bring it back before the Land Use Board and hopefully come to a mutual understanding, she said.