To the People

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or TO THE PEOPLE.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Government to Law-Abiding Citizens: Get Out

This weekend, the town of Stratford, Connecticut evicted residents of its Long Beach neighborhood. Long Beach is a skinny peninsula of land (originally an island, but connected to the mainland after the 1938 hurricane or, depending on the source, a storm in the 1960s) which juts westward along Long Island Sound into the adjacent city of Bridgeport. For decades the town had leased land on Long Beach to summer residents, who built and maintained cottages on the lots.

In June 1996, a fire destroyed the only man-made bridge leading from the mainland to Long Beach, limiting land access to a narrow, mile-long trail through the sugar sand of the dunes or along a rocky beach choked with huge drifts of seashells. Expressing an unwillingness to extend emergency services to what is effectively an island, the town refused to renew any of the leases and demanded the summer residents vacate. The residents fought the order, and for eleven years, kept returning every summer without paying rent or taxes:
After an 11-year legal battle with the town, the Bolicks and a dozen other families have been ordered to vacate their cottages by this weekend as the town takes possession of the 35-acre Long Beach peninsula.

The families — there were 60 at one time — held out hope for a last-minute reprieve from the courts, but that reprieve never came. After numerous legal appeals, the state Supreme Court affirmed the town's right to evict the cottage owners.

A month ago, eviction orders were issued for the remaining families still using cottages. They are expected to leave Friday and Saturday as their furniture and other belongings are loaded onto moving trucks being brought to the island by a military-type landing craft.

Several years ago, the federal government offered $3.9 million for the land. The cottage owners offered $5.8 million for the property, plus an additional $500,000 for purchase of emergency vehicles to be located on the peninsula.

But the Town Council decided at the time to hold onto the land and keep fighting in court.
Source here. More recent article and photos here.

All of this was a revelation for me since for years I've spotted the western end of Long Beach from I-95 and wondered what it was and how you got there. This morning my youngest research assistant and I took a walk through the dune grass and wild petunias to the cottages, where we had a look around and chatted up a few stragglers.

Both beach and trail are impassable to anything greater than a jog stroller or the most thick-thighed mountain biker; boats are the only practical way to bring in groceries. The neighborhood itself consists of 44 cottages, some well maintained, many possessing what could be termed "rustic charm," and several that appeared ready to collapse if I stared too hard. Most were boarded up and deserted; the rest were in the process thereof. Lines hanging from teetering poles supply electricity year-round, while a resident told me water was piped in from April 15 to October 15 (neither were cut during the legal battle). Propane and electricity powered the stoves and the occasional air-conditioner.

A nice breeze blew off the Sound. Piping plovers skittered on the beach and big fat cottontails munched beside the cracked, half-buried asphalt of the only street. Jolly Rogers hung from several flagpoles. Music boomed from within one boarded-up cottage and I couldn't decide if there was someone still inside or if the owner had pranked the Stratford government by sealing the building with a radio volume dialed to eleven.

There are signs everywhere stating the neighborhood is surveilled electronically but according to three Long Beachers I spoke to, local cops had been there the day before and were amazed — they didn't know it existed. The community never had police presence, the three said, and they supplied their own fire hoses and pumps.

So if the neighbors were willing to buy the land, pay taxes, and endure the difficulties of the place — including the lack of outside emergency service — why would the town lose money, I asked, by not renewing the leases or selling?

One of the three blamed Republicans; another thought some of the council members were jealous of their lifestyle. I shared my suspicion that a sort of Kelo v. New London was at work, with the rickety cottages to be swept away by beachfront condos and connected to the mainland by a new bridge built not by Bridgeport or Stratford but by the developer. They disagreed. During storms, the waters in the Sound and the inlet sometimes meet (all of the cottages are on pilings) and the town, they said, wouldn't dare endanger the bird sanctuary in the dunes. I remain unconvinced; the peninsula broadens at its western end, perfect for a cluster of high-revenue-yielding towers.

Long Beach is a ghost town for no discernible reason. As a lover of all photos ruinous, I'll take a trip back after a few more nor'easters have torn through, the grass has gone unmowed for a couple of summers, and the teenagers have had their run of the place.

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