The Darien Boat Club met with the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Environmental and Energy Protection, and town citizens for an informational meeting Wednesday to discuss the club's application for expansion.
If the application is approved, the club would add 200 feet to Dock A and 250 feet to Dock B, which would require dredging 61,000 square feet and moving 18,500 cubic feet of materials into the western part of the Long Island Sound, which has already been approved by the state of New York.
Several residents attended meeting in support of the boat club expansion, but most were firmly against it.
Darien Boat Club Commodore David Dever shared background on the boat club, which started in 1948 and currently has 803 members.
"We want to put more recreational boats in the water for the enjoyment of Darien residents," Dever said, adding that the process "will take some time."
"Before we came up with the proposal, we investigated many options including complete reconfiguration of the dock facilities, but retaining this system is really the most efficient," Nelson said, adding that boats would come and go through the same area of water as they do now.
The idea to expand began in 2009 when the Darien Boat Club wait list, for medium-sized boats, jumped from 12-plus years to 20-plus years in a very short time. At that time, the club went to DEEP (then only DEP) for an informal inquiry about expanding.
DEEP was supportive of the expansion, telling the club it had the opportunity to use the most amount of space with the last amount of environmental disruption.
Peter Pellegrino, a professor from Southern Connecticut State University and coastal resource analyst, also spoke on behalf of the proposed expansion, explaining that tests performed on the organisms to determine whether they would survive the dredging.
Pellegrino took samples from three different areas of the river, the area which had already been dredged, the area which hadn't been dredged, and the area of lowest predictable tide.
"What we really wanted to know is, do the species come back?" Pellegrino said.
He surveyed those areas for different variables -- species richness, or how many species exist, and species diversity, the different types of species found in the water.
"There was slight variation between the three stations but we had a relatively uniform community," Pellegrino said, adding that after the initial disturbance to the water, the organisms would return to normal populations within 12 to 18 months.
The floor was then open to questions and comments moderated by former commodore of the Darien Boat Club Chris Mangan. Wilder Gleason was the first to speak on behalf of several of the neighbors near the docks.
"The neighbors believe there are significant problems with this expansion," Gleason said. He said one neighbor, who owns a private dock, has "no restriction on what size boat they can put on their dock," adding that the proposed expansion Dock A would severely decrease the pinch-point room for boats should the neighbors decide to dock a 60-foot boat.
"The dock also creates a blind corner, and 40 percent more boats means a 40 percent increase in boat traffic," Gleason said. "What you're doing with this 40 percent increase is concerning navigability issues as far as the neighbors are concerned, and you're hindering the neighbors ability to maneuver boats into their docks."
Flip Huffard also represented several of the residents opposed to the boat expansion, but for different reasons.
"This is a very, very rich ecosystem," he said. "What work have you done looking at the impact on birds on mammals on the oyster reef which is located immediately north of his area? To my knowledge it is the only oyster reef in the local area."
Nelson said there had been no studies on the mammals.
"I personally find it extremely misleading that the photographs and diagrams have all been done at high tide, and it looks visually like you're putting a dock into a deep water area, which isn't what's happening," Huffard said. "I really think that in order to get a balanced presentation on what you're proposing to do you need to show the low-tide impact much more clearly."
State Rep. Terrie Wood (R-141) opposed the expansion for several reasons.
"I very much appreciate this opportunity to have this meeting and I think a lot of good comments have been made," Wood said. "I understand the reason for this expansion, but I'm very concerned about it. I'm concerned on an environmental and a navigability level and a safety level, and I haven't even enough to make me comfortable with this."
Not everyone was against the expansion of the club, though.
"I'd like to speak in favor of the plan," resident Colin Seeley said. "Darien's a boating community, and that's part of the reason we moved here. I'm really supportive of the plan and I hope we can find a way to work out the differences."
Douglas VanderHorn echoed Seeley's thoughts
"I joined the boat club when my eldest child was 2 years old and it took me 13 years to get a spot on the dock," VanderHorn said. "My kids grew up without boating because the wait was so long and it's unfortunate."
John Marcous also spoke in favor of the plan on behalf of eight Darien families.
"My wife and I relocated from San Francisco to Darien by sailing here in 2002, and my wife was pregnant when we got out of the boat," Marcous said. "We've had our boat on a mooring since 2004 and my kids are 7 and 8. I don't know how many years away we are form getting a dock spot for a boat, but I know it's at least five or eight and this summer I towed my dingy up and down that road probably 45 times and I'm just thinking about a few years from now when my kids are old enough, they're not going to be old enough to drive the dingy down there and launch the boat themselves. It's physically exerting. I'd just like to say that as a sailor and a fisherman access to the water is a big part of the value of living in Darien."
The Darien Boat Club is currently in the pre-application process with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
firstname.lastname@example.org; 203-972-4407; http://twitter.com/megdariennews