December 15, 2019

Essex Selectmen Seek to Resolve Novelty Lane Issues to Complete Public Access Improvements

ESSEX— The board of selectmen will move to resolve issues involving the public access to the Connecticut River from Novelty Lane in an effort to utilize state funding that was provided to improve the access walkway.

The board Wednesday heard an appeal from Jeff Going, chairman of the harbor management commission, to resolve two outstanding issues related to the small street that extends south near the lower end of Main Street in downtown Essex village. The paved portion of the street ends at a public access walkway that extends to the bulkhead on Middle Cove of the Connecticut River. The town was awarded a $198,000 state Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grant last year, with a portion of the funds intended to upgrade the public access walkway at Novelty Lane.

Most of the grant funds were directed toward construction of a new boat launch on the river at the end of Main Street. But with the boat launch project completed, about $35,000 remains to pay for the improvements to the Novelty Lane walkway. The town must use the remaining grant funds this year, or return the money to the state.

Going said the unresolved issues involve a determination of clear title to the paved portion of the road that serves several homes and businesses, and a stone retaining wall that was constructed several years ago by an adjoining property owner without permits that extends over about a third of the public access right-of-way. The property owner at 15 Novelty Lane is Terrance Lomme, a local lawyer who now serves as the elected judge of probate for the nine-town region.

Going, by letter and in person at the meeting, advised the selectmen that the commission has already directed a small portion of the grant funds to retain a landscape architect to begin design of the improvements to the public access walkway. He also told the board the retaining wall, and a drainage pipe that was installed with it, “has caused harm to the remaining public access area around it” by eroding soil from the narrow walkway. Going said the public access has been marked by signage and promoted in brochures since 1990.

Going said the “illegal wall” must be removed, whether the town is able to utilize the state grant funds or not. In his letter, Going contended the harbor management commission has the authority to pursue removal of the wall and remediate the drainage and soil erosion problem “regardless of what the board of selectmen does or does not do,” regarding the issues related to Novelty Lane.

Town funds would have to be used for any title research related to Novelty Lane. The grant funds must be directed only for design and construction of the public access improvements.