Groups seeks “course correction” at Compo Beach
WESTPORT — Friends of Compo Beach started with a conversation between two Crooked Mile Road neighbors. Geralyn Breig remembers the following: “Leslie (Gallant) and I got to talking about what we were experiencing down at the beach.”
“The conditions were different than we had experienced before,” Geralyn, a town resident for 20 years, recounted. “Everyone knows there’s a large crowd for Fourth of July weekend, but it seemed to be the case multiple weekends.”
“We talked to other people, other neighbors and other friends, and everybody was talking about it,” Breig, a four year resident, said.
On Sept. 13 Breig and Gallant attended the Parks and Recreation Commission meeting to raise their concerns about Compo, but Breig recalls a lot of people couldn’t attend because it was the same night as elementary school back to school night.
“There weren’t a lot of answers at the meeting,” Breig said. She left concerned the commission, “might not get everybody’s voices into the mix by next summer.”
Breig and Gallant directed the uneasiness they felt after leaving the Parks and Recreation meeting and created the advocacy groups “Friends of Compo Beach.” Their neighbor Nick Sadler joined as the group’s third co-founder.
Stated Goals of Friends of Compo
1. Reduce the crowd sizes
2. Fix the traffic problem
3. Ensure parking for residents
4. Enforce rules for public behavior and courtesy
5. Ensure services such as boat ramps are accessible
6. Restore a safe, clean, environmentally sound beach
“The issue seemed like it could end up being very divisive,” Breig said. “At the same time it seemed like because it was an issue that had emerged very quickly this summer we were hopeful if people’s feedback was channeled through a strong voice and conveyed firmly to town officials that the issue could be resolved quickly.”
The group created a website (www.friendsofcompobeach.com) which outlined their concerns with the beach: “record crowds, record traffic, record problems with garbage, bathrooms, and bad behavior. We’d like a course correction and we are joining our voices to get this fixed by Summer 2018.”
The site invites people to subscribe and submit anonymous comments that were seen only by the site administrators. The website promises, “feedback will be shared to the town anonymously.”
As Breig remembers, “within days we had thousands of visits to the site and hundreds of people had subscribed and commented.”
Soon after the co-founder compiled the received comments and distilled them to six goals: reduce crowd sizes, fix the traffic problem, ensure parking for residents, enforce rules for public behavior and courtesy, ensure services such as boat ramps are accessible, and restore a safe, clean, environmentally sound beach.”
The group talked with Selectman Marpe via phone and met Charles Haberstroh, Chair of the town’s Parks and Recreation Commission, to share the feedback they received on the website.
When asked what policies or specific changes the group would like to see implemented, Breig said, “We decided early on that we were not going to have proposals as a group.” However, “we want it to be a fair and reasonable solution that’s in keeping with the history and the character and the values of the town.”
On Sept. 18 “Marpe-Tooker for Westport” sent an email to supporters addressing beach concerns: “Our administration is investing in Compo Beach’s future while also respecting its past.”
Marpe-Tooker included a list of improvements made at the beach over the last four year and said, “This fall, we will commence renovations to the boathouse and pavilion, including upgrading the bathrooms and roofs to make them more attractive and safe. We are exploring options to extend the beach walkway and build permanent accessible bathrooms in the South Beach area.”
The email also stated that Marpe-Tooker, “instructed the Parks and Recreation Department and Commission to conduct a full review to address traffic, overcrowding and maintenance issues that result from increased use.”
Democratic first and second selectman challengers Melissa Kane and Rob Simmelkjaer followed-up on beach concerns with an email to their supporters dated Sept. 24. The duo promised, “We can make sure you spend less of your summer waiting in line to get into an overcrowded Compo Beach, and that both Compo and Longshore are up to the standards Westport deserves.”
If elected, the pair plans to improve Compo and Longshore by “limiting the number of day passes sold on the most popular weekends,” “stopping sales of day passes at the Compo entrance,” “building permanent bathrooms on the south side of the beach,” “ensuring proper maintenance,” and “making simple improvements to the Longshore Pool.”
Haberstroh said his commission’s Oct. 18 meeting will address the group’s concerns. An agenda has yet to be posted for the upcoming meeting.
Other recommendations will be proposed at later meetings because, as Haberstroh said, “There are some recommendations that require more study and we want to make sure whatever the recommendations are they don’t have unintended consequences.”
“We’re trying to address as many concerns as we can as quickly as we can but there’s no rush to do so before Nov. 1,” Haberstroh said.
Parks and Recreation Department Director Jennifer Fava echoed Haberstroh’s comments and added, “Some recommendations require a little bit more investigation and thought so that we can make sure they are feasible and able to be implemented.”
Although winter is quickly approaching, concerns about summer at Compo beach will likely stay on the minds of many in town in the month’s to come.