By Robert D. Utter
NORTH STONINGTON – The other day, a well-used black truck came up the driveway and out stepped Wayne Berardi, the town’s wetlands enforcement officer. We kept our awkward new-world distance and discussed the brook that goes under Grindstone Hill Road. Connie and I have known Wayne for many years, and he knew we lived on Pendleton Hill Brook.
He wanted to know what I knew about the dams that had been placed across the brook above and below where the road crosses the water. The dams, it turns out, had upset the United States Geological Survey (USGS) measurements of water levels in the stream, mainly because the lower dam was raising the water level at the measurement gauge.
USGS has been monitoring the stream for more than 60 years, now in cooperation with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).
DEEP had contacted Wayne to see what he knew about it, Wayne came up the driveway to see what I knew about it.
Not much, it turned out. I had seen someone in the stream about a week before, but assumed it was someone with USGS or DEEP or from the North Stonington Citizen’s Land Alliance, the owner of the land on either side of the stream just north of the bridge.
After Wayne left, I went down to the stream by way of a new path that had been cut from the road, not far from our property line. As soon as I got to the water, the extent of the work that had been done became clear. All the small trees and brush has been cleared from the edge of the water to, at some points, more than 10 feet from the bank. The ground had been scoured of leaves and looked nude.
The dam at the site of an old mill had been rebuilt. Just below that, a bridge made of sticks and logs had been put across the stream. By the bridge, up on top of the bank, there was a new bench, freshly painted brown. Going off from the bench was a second new trail, also leading to the road.
Further downstream there was another dam. Then, there was a third dam built just eight feet above the USGS station. Crossing the road, I came to another bench and the fourth and final dam, this on land owned by the Larsens.
All along, there were wooden carved signs screwed to trees: “MIDDLE POOL,” “DEEP River ABOVE FALLS,” “LOWER POOL.” One sign had a wheelchair symbol and said, “H/C AND YOUTH POOL 12 OR LESS TK’S.”
My overall impression of the work was that someone had created a 1950s-style Adirondack fishing camp. The work was thoughtful, perhaps nostalgic. But it wasn’t the work of the Land Alliance. This property is marked as a “Conservation Area.” The Land Alliance had purposely decided not to place trails along the brook.
I went back to the house to call Madeline Jeffery, the president of the Land Alliance. She confirmed she did not know of the work. After describing to her the extent of the changes, I went back, with Connie, to photograph and pace off where everything was so I could draw a diagram of the changes.
Soon thereafter, Madeline met at the stream with Betty Perkowski, a Land Alliance board member. The Land Alliance decided, over the next couple of days, to temporarily block access to the area, mostly in fear of the attractive nuisance and liability of the stick bridge.
A couple of days later, the signs and bench south of the road were gone, the bench having been moved into the woods north of the road. Police tape blocked access to the north side and a sign was posted reading “Closed To Public.”
A couple of days after that, people from DEEP and USGS showed up and took apart the lower two dams, the ones that were interfering with their data.
That’s how it sits today, although with all the rain, some of cleared areas are now under water.
Jeffery said the upper dams and bridge will be taken apart at some point, but not right away.
She said the Land Alliance is considering what happened as “very intrusive” and “squatting,” as if someone had taken possession of private property and used it as if it were their own.
“We would never think of doing this to anyone’s yard or property,” she said. “This section of the brook is untampered with and we would like it to remain that way.”
“Having the greenery removed from the banks is not good for the brook or the fish,” Jeffery added, saying the increased sunlight could raise the temperature of the water.
While the Land Alliance still does not know who did the damage, the group is interested to know.
“We’ve found in the past that in most situations like this, it’s abutters, it’s somebody nearby,” she said.